Summit County, Ohio Building $75 Million, 125-Mile Fiber Ring

Summit County Ohio seal

Summit County, Ohio says it’s making progress on a $75 million, 125-mile fiber-optic ring made possible courtesy of American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA) funds. The project will start by providing gigabit connectivity to all county first responders, after which county leaders say they’ll focus on shoring up lagging broadband access to long-neglected communities.

A 2017 report by an outside consultant found that Summit County, like so much of America, struggles with a dearth of affordable broadband access thanks to a heavily monopolized U.S. broadband market. The county’s fixed-line broadband market is dominated by two major incumbents, Centurylink and Comcast, and wireless access remains spotty across large swatches of the county’s more rural territories.

Introduced last year, Summit County Executive Ilene Shapiro noted the network will first connect all 31 city, village and township governments to gigabit speed broadband and a data center. The network is expected to cost as much as $75 million. $35 million of that total will be pulled from the $105 million in ARPA funding received by the county.

Summit County Ohio police vehicle

Summit County’s interest in more affordable broadband extends back years. County leaders played a key role in beating back monopoly efforts in the state legislature to effectively ban publicly-owned broadband networks. Once those efforts were defeated, county leaders began formulating their broadband expansion plans in earnest.

Another $20 million in ARPA funds is being set aside to support broadband expansion efforts with a focus on public education, health and criminal justice. The new data center design and construction will be funded via a separate $22 million in County General Capital Improvement funds. The county is hopeful BEAD funding can also be integrated into the project.

Once municipalities and first responders are connected to the network, the county says it will expand fiber access to the estimated 11 percent of Summit County’s populated areas that lack access to even the FCC’s minimum acceptable definition of broadband (twenty-five megabits per second (Mbps) downstream, 3 Mbps upstream).

Summit County Ohio map

From there, county officials say they’re hopeful the resulting new fiber ring will attract private providers keen in investing in last mile access for local residences and businesses, and set the stage for a new wave of public private partnerships between the county and numerous additional ISPs.  

The network is currently in a $2.5 million dollar design phase which is expected to be finished by late 2024. The fiber ring and data center is expected to be operational sometime in 2025.

The finished network will be managed by Fairlawn Gig, one of the country’s most successful and popular community broadband utilities, owned and operated by the City of Fairlawn.

“The COVID-19 pandemic further exposed the growing digital divide present in Summit County, Ohio and the entire nation. Summit County and our 31 local governments are all in agreement,” Shapiro said. “We need better Internet options to provide the best public safety and other government services to our residents. Summit Connects is a home-grown, cost-effective solution that meets the needs of our local communities.”

Bill Roth, the Former Mayor of Fairlawn, Ohio and Chairman of Broadband Access Ohio, made the case in an editorial published in the Akron Beacon Journal that the final network should prove transformative for the region when its impact is felt a few years from now.

“Overall, the benefits of the 125-mile fiber-optic line throughout the county will aid in the development, growth and safety of everyone in the county,” Roth said. “It will make our local governments more efficient and secure, give our emergency services the tools to keep our communities safe, and eventually give access to high-quality, reliable and affordable internet to everyone in Summit County.”

Inline map of Summit County Ohio courtesy of Wikimedia Commons, Attribution 3.0 Unported (CC BY 3.0)

Inline image of Springfield Township police vehicle in Summit County courtesy of Flickr user Raymond Wambsgans, Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0)