Internet project revived

EAST LIVERPOOL -The Columbiana County Port Authority is reviving efforts to bring high-speed wireless Internet service to the county.

The Port Authority board voted at Monday’s meeting to hire the Columbus consulting firm of Ice Miller Whiteboard LLC to apply for a state grant to study the financial feasibility of bringing wireless broadband service to the county. If the study results are favorable, the port authority would seek a state loan to implement the plan.

Icemiller Whiteboard’s fee is $5,000, with the port authority contributing $2,000, and the city of East Liverpool and village of Wellsville contributing $1,500 each. Port CEO Tracy Drake said the plan is to bring wireless Internet to these two communities first and then expand northward across the rest of the county.

“What we’re doing is we’re going to see what we can do and at what cost,” Drake said.

This is the port authority’s second attempt to bring high-speed Internet service to the entire county. In 2010, the board contracted with Omnicity, an Indiana company specializing in bringing high-speed Internet service to rural areas and underserved towns. By mid 2011, Omnicity had filed bankruptcy and was later sold, but not before managing to get high-speed Internet service to at least one of the 18 townships in the county.

Meanwhile, the problem may be solving itself somewhat. There are private operators in the county offering both dial-up as well as wireless Internet services. Also, in 2011 a company by the name of Horizon Telecom launched efforts under a federally funded state initiative to extend high-speed Internet service to the 34 Ohio counties that are part of the Appalachian region, which includes Columbiana County.

Drake said their effort this time will be focused solely on bringing wireless high-speed Internet to those areas in the county without reliable service. The plan would likely take advantage of the existing system of fiber optic cable in the county and identify existing towers where wireless equipment could be attached.

“We know what we have but we don’t what demand is out there,” he said.

In other business, the board voted to extend Drake’s contract for another year. Drake’s contract was renewed last year, with two options to extend the contract for another year each time, which was a break from the past when he was awarded a six-year deal.

The terms and conditions of the contract remain the same. Drake is paid a base salary of $200,000, plus a vehicle allowance.

Board member Keith Chamberlin, who just came on board in March, said he had no problem voting in favor of extending Drake’s contract but prefer they establish a job evaluation process in the future.