Updated 12:03 pm, Saturday, November 21, 2015
COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — An Ohio transportation agency is expected to use nearly $7 million in federal money to upgrade technology of rural transit agencies and increase broadband Internet access in areas with insufficient service.
More than 30 rural transit service areas will receive upgrades under the Transit Tech Ohio project, The Columbus Dispatch reported (http://bit.ly/1Simju9), including software, broadband access, and equipment upgrades.
Agencies in rural areas will be able to share their routes and schedules more effectively, said Ohio Department of Transportation spokesman Matt Bruning. Some agencies have scheduled routes while others respond to individual transportation requests. The upgrades should make it easier for riders to make the best choice.
Rural areas with limited Internet availability or high-speed connections will also receive either new equipment on existing state-owned towers for wireless broadband or entirely new towers.
Connect Ohio, which works to expand broadband access in the state and takes inquiries from residents, is pleased with the opportunities the project will bring, said executive director Lindsay Shanahan.
“The hope would be that even if folks don’t use rural transit that ultimately broadband coverage would benefit in these areas,” she said.
The group is currently lobbying state lawmakers to extend its state subsidy. In a letter to supporters last week, Shanahan said Connect Ohio’s procured state funding will cease at the end of the year. That will force the office to terminate its mapping, research and policy initiatives.
The office has a $780,500 state grant through the Ohio Development Services Agency that lapses at year’s end. A new $950,000 award was initially included in the state budget, but removed with the understanding new funding would have to be secured.
Ohio’s so-called Broadband Caucus, a group of mostly rural and Appalachian lawmakers whose districts face broadband access issues, met this past week.
The rural transit upgrade project is expected to be completed in about three years. Counties in the southern and southeastern parts of the state will receive upgrades first.
Broadband access is necessary for the economy to grow, said John Molinaro, president and CEO of the Appalachian Partnership for Economic Growth.
“Broadband access is a critical issue in many parts of our region,” he said. Additional broadband access will also allow children to use the Internet for school.
Information from: The Columbus Dispatch, http://www.dispatch.com