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Broadband providers pitch their plan to townships

T-L Photo/ROBERT A. DEFRANK York Township Trustees Curt Wisvari, from left, and Robert Graham, and Union Township Trustee Justin Demarchi speak to Tim Berelsman, CEO of Ohio GIG during a meeting Thursday. The company intends to bring broadband access to rural areas through installing fiber infrastructure and is seeking local support.

ST. CLAIRSVILLE — Township trustees from across Belmont County heard a presentation Thursday from company that intends to install infrastructure to bring broadband internet to rural, underserved areas.

Nicholas Hunter is CEO of Fiber Capital Partners, a fund management business that brings in private capital investment to build infrastructure in communities that lack it.

He along with Tim Berelsman, CEO of Ohio GIG which provides service to underserved areas of Ohio, and Jarrod Pantier, chief operating officer of Ohio GIG, laid out their plans with the goal of bringing fast and reliable access to the entire county by 2029.

Berelsman said they intend to build a gigabit system able to provide 10 megabits to cell towers and to improve overall infrastructure. He said 500 and 250 megabit packages will also be available. He said this could mean customers would be able to eliminate their cable or satellite dish and utilize the internet.

They plan a total investment of about $132 million to run fiber through Belmont County.

Berelsman said work will begin this July in the area of Belmont College and build west and south 15-24 miles to cover the Union Local School District. Berelson said the district has issues with internet service.

They said there will be more five-year projects beginning every year afterward until coverage is completed in 2029.

The project would create 60 Belmont County jobs, and they are reaching out to vocational students to hire.

Hunter said there are 35,000 possible connect points in Belmont.

The company hopes to get at least 60 percent signed up for its services.

During the infrastructure installation, the companies hope for the cooperation of local residents and for right-of-way permits on private properties if needed.

“It’s really about getting the local shakers and movers, the people who are closest to the residents of the communities who those people trust, to get them to understand what’s coming their way and help us spread that word,” he said.

They spoke to about 20 trustees from 14 townships.

The nearly two-hour meeting included lengthy questions from trustees about such elements as the capacity of broadband service and the terms and conditions for signing up for service.

Berelsman said rates are locked.

“Your rate will not change. What I ask from you in return is that you will sign a commitment to me on the service. I structured it with banks so that I can use that to finance the next build,” he said, adding that if a home is sold the service goes with it and the contract can be voided if Ohio GIG fails to maintain service or fails to resolve service issues.

Berelsman said they offer three different service speeds. The slowest is 250 megabits download, and 50 upload, $84.95 per month. That comes with a managed router.

Belmont County Port Authority Director Larry Merry said he sees potential for growth in the initiative.

Pultney Township Trustee Frank Shaffer wholeheartedly supports the project.

“Go back and explain this to your other township trustees, your fiscal officers, get them to understand and try to get them the heads up. Explain it to them and when these guys need your assistance, I’d appreciate it if you really work with them. … They’re going to get into the dire-needed places (that need) internet.”

The trustees in attendance were impressed.

“It sounds legitimate to me,” Richland Township Trustee Kathy Kaluger said. “I think they just want us to let people know that they are a legitimate company and they are going to help them.”

“I like it, but I’d like to see it sooner. Rome wasn’t built in a day,” Wayne Township Trustee Bill Davis said.

“I think it’s great. I can’t wait for it to come in,” Washington Township Trustee Larry Stukey said. “If they get it out there, this is going to be a great thing.”

“I think our questions were answered,” York Township Trustees Curt Wisvari said. “We’re still in the beginning stages about this and learning about it. We’ll learn more about it as it progresses. … We’re looking forward to hearing more about it and seeing where this project is going to take us in the future. … We see the need for broadband in our area. Our outlying areas suffer from lack of service and good quality service. If this could come in and provide that, you’re going to see a big improvement in a lot of our businesses and offerings.”

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