By Amanda Murphy
Columbiana County recently welcomed a new resident – one that is made of steel and stands 250-feet high. The new piece of infrastructure will allow more than 300 households and business in the area to receive high-speed Internet access.
Omnicity, a fixed-wireless Internet service provider, along with the collaborative efforts of Knox Township and Columbiana County officials, MARCS (Multi-Agency Radio Communication System) program staff, Tri-County Tower, and Columbiana County Port Authority, recently completed the new Knox Township MARCS tower. The nearly two-year project began in 2009 with Columbiana County Port Authority and Omnicity advocating the possibilities of broadband expansion.
A dedication ceremony and formal ribbon-cutting event took place May 31 in Alliance to recognize the new Knox Township MARCS tower, which has already been successful in expanding broadband access to residences, businesses, and schools throughout the area.
“This is the first tower in Ohio with fiber optics running to the tower itself, as well as a new technology known as WiMAX, which allows the opportunity for 4G capabilities and to upgrade connectivity speeds without replacing ground equipment,” said David Weddell, vice president of business development and corporate partnerships with Omnicity. “This represents our model for our future deployments. We’ll offer multiple services over this broadband connection.”
Omnicity is already serving 50 homes and plans to eventually serve about 300 from this single tower, as well as deploy additional towers and broadband service in the near future.
“A lot of people in this area have no Internet connection and some, not even cable,” said Columbiana County Commissioner Jim Hoppel. “This tower is a big advantage and it’s just a start. The community is very excited.”
Amy Mabbott, principal of Knox Elementary School, located across the street from the tower, shared how thankful she is for the school’s new connectivity at the dedication ceremony.
“Thank you for advocating for the families and children at Knox Elementary and for the opportunity for advanced technology,” said Mabbott.
According to Connect Ohio’s 2008 Consumer Technology Assessment for Columbiana County, 43% of households received broadband service to the home, significantly less than the state average at the time, which was 55%. (A 2011 Residential Technology Assessment for each county will be available in July.)
Not only has the tower allowed for broadband connectivity, but it has also improved first-responder communications for the area through MARCS. According to its website, MARCS is an 800 MHz radio and data network that utilizes state-of-the-art trunked technology to provide statewide interoperability in digital clarity to its subscribers throughout Ohio and a 10-mile radius outside of Ohio. The MARCS system provides statewide, secure, reliable public service wireless communication for public safety and first responders.
“Before, emergency mutual aid calls were very difficult to hear on our radios,” said Ed Reichenbach, North Georgetown Fire Department chief. “We couldn’t hear what was happening in the southern part of the county. Since the tower, our radio transmissions are stronger and crystal clear. I can even hear radio transmissions outside of the county now.”
Connect Ohio technical outreach staff had a pivotal role in Omnicity’s expansion planning for Columbiana County and was pleased to share in the excitement at the tower’s dedication ceremony.
“This project is a great example of what can be accomplished with public-private partnerships to serve the fundamental needs of rural communities,” said Bart Winegar, technical outreach manager for Connect Ohio. “Hopefully, we can replicate this model in other rural areas.”
Connect Ohio’s Bart Winegar and Omnicity’s David Weddell
“Connect Ohio is providing two great things for us during this process,” said Weddell. “They are providing propagation studies and business models for us to know where to build and deploy, as well as assisting us with partnerships. Secondly, we can build it, but we need people to use it. Connect Ohio is helping with that by teaching adults how to use broadband (through the statewide Every Citizen Online program).”
As Omnicity continues with future expansion plans, Connect Ohio technical outreach staff will continue to provide assistance through propagation studies, business models, and public-private partnerships.
View more photos from the ribbon-cutting event on our <a href="https://www.facebook.com/ConnectOhio"Facebook page or by clicking here.
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