Rural Ohio County Designated a ‘Connected Community’

Van Wert County, Ohio, is the first "connected community" in the state.

As businesses, government and health care increasingly rely on broadband infrastructure and services to communicate, a community’s success and desirability includes its commitment to such technologies. Ohio is embracing that commitment through a new connectivity initiative.

Van Wert County, a rural area in northwest Ohio with a population of less than 30,000, was recently designated as Ohio’s first “connected community.” The county participated in a Connected Community Engagement Program facilitated by Connect Ohio, a subsidiary of Connected Nation. The organizations partner with communities to maximize the benefits of universal broadband.

Here’s how the program works:

Communities use an online portal to generate a technology action plan. The assessment consists of a series of questions and data fields that are based on Federal Communication Commission metrics. The framework is composed of three elements — access, adoption and use. Each sub‐assessment has a maximum of 40 points. To achieve Connected Community certification, there must be 32 points in each sub‐assessment and 100 points out of 120 points overall.

Van Wert County is one of nine counties in the United States to receive the designation.

Connected Assessments 13 Metrics

Broadband availability
Broadband speeds
Broadband competition
Middle mile access
Mobile broadband availability

Digital literacy
Public computer centers
Broadband awareness
Vulnerable population focus

Economic opportunity

“The idea is to create a scorecard to identify where a community is in overall access,” said Bart Winegar, technical outreach manager of Connect Ohio. “Then we dialog with the community to look at the areas that have needs. The hope is that with this technology assessment that the community has a gap analysis, and it can start implementing those action items.” Kim Brandt, the 911 coordinator for the county, felt the designation gives the county an edge in attracting new companies.

“They know Van Wert County has done work putting a plan together,” Brandt said. “Businesses and residents know that we are committed to the benefits of being connected.” 

A National Issue

Connected Nation estimates that approximately 30 percent of Americans do not subscribe to home broadband service, and adoption varies significantly across socio-economic lines. Connected Nation also believes that at least 24 percent of U.S. businesses don’t utilize broadband technology.

When a community is faced with issues of use and adoption, broadband providers are less likely to build out in the area due to lower return on investment. However, if community stakeholders create action to produce higher adoptions levels, the community becomes more attractive for providers. Connect Ohio has trained about 42,000 people on basic computer skills.

“I’ve been in this business 25 years, and I don’t know if there will ever be enough broadband capacity for what is in store for us,” said Stuart Johnson, executive director of Connect Ohio. “Van Wert [County] understands this importance, and it supports continued growth as an infrastructure need, workforce development and community development.”

Broadband challenges still exist for certified Connected Communities. But by participating in the program and generating the report, it can pinpoint action items to achieve success.

For example, if a neighborhood lacks access to broadband, Winegar said Connect Ohio can work with a provider to learn what it takes to bridge the gap and engage the community to improve the situation.

Van Wert County’s assessment indicated three priority projects with the purpose of empowering the community to continue broadband access, adoption and use. These projects include completing the county and city fiber loop, hiring a county IT manager and implementing a countywide GIS for residents and businesses.

“The biggest benefit is yet to be seen,” Brandt said. “It’s in our future accomplishments — as the goals we put in place are accomplished.

Brian Heaton was a writer for Government Technology and Emergency Management magazines from 2011 to mid-2015.