Wednesday, March 18th, 2009
By Shelley Grieshop
Local leaders tapped to improve Web access
Connect Ohio group: Some parts of Mercer County do not have high-speed Internet
  Dozens of community leaders gathered in Celina on Tuesday morning to kick off a project to improve the area's high-speed Internet access and usage.
The meeting in the Central Services Building was led by a member of Connect Ohio, a non-profit group hired by the state in December 2007 to promote high-speed (broadband) Internet coverage and utilization in all 88 counties.
"Broadband Internet is necessary to be able to compete economically and globally," Connect Ohio representative Sage Cutler told the business owners, education officials, government workers and others at the meeting.
According to data supplied by Connect Ohio, Mercer County currently has dead zones - approximately 10 percent of the region - where high-speed service is not available. Only half of area residents have broadband service at home.
Connect Ohio's purpose is two-fold: to bring high-speed Internet to the current dead zones and to empower community leaders to incorporate its use in every sector.
Broadband service is defined by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) as data transmission speeds exceeding 200 kilobits per second or 200,000 bits per second, in at least one direction, either downstream from the Internet to the user's computer or upstream from the user's computer to the Internet.
Broadband, versus the much slower dial-up method, allows more content to be carried faster through the transmission "pipeline," according to the FCC.
Cutler told the audience the availability of high-speed connections contributes to improved healthcare, a more efficient government, economic development and enhanced education. It also helps attract new businesses, which also seek workers with top-notch computer skills, he said.
Cutler asked the leadership team to gather more representatives from the community in sectors such as agriculture, industry, community-based organizations, education, government, healthcare, higher education, libraries and tourism.
"The leadership team doesn't have to be made up of people who are computer savvy, that doesn't matter that much," he added.
Julie Miller, director of the Business Enterprise Center at Wright State University-Lake Campus, suggested youth be included in the mix because they often are more technological-oriented and are future leaders. Cutler dubbed the idea a good one. High school-aged students also could be instrumental in teaching older residents the "ins and outs of computers," all agreed.
Dave Sweet, spokesman for Connect Ohio, said the organization recently sped up their task in Ohio to give all counties a chance to apply for stimulus or other government funds, which may be available in coming months for computer technology and related services, he said.
The local task began in February when Cutler presented a micro-version of Tuesday's program to county commissioners who helped him set up this week's meeting. A second meeting - deemed a benchmark workshop - is set for 10 a.m. April 23 at the same location; three other meetings will follow, once a month.
Anyone interested in joining the leadership team or seeking more information is asked to contact Cutler at 740-223-6377 or scutler@connectohio.org or go to the company's Web site at www.connectohio.org.

How do Mercer Countians use the Web?:
According to data provided by Connect Ohio, a nonprofit company hired by state officials to promote broadband (high-speed) coverage and usage, Mercer Countians are no strangers to the Internet but overall usage could be better.
Their data reveal:
• Eighty percent of residents have a computer at home and 67 percent of those have Internet service. However, only 50 percent have broadband service.
• Seventy percent of the population with children at home has broadband service, compared with 38 percent of households without children.
• Residents use the Internet most often for product or service information (84 percent of the time) and health or medical information (77 percent).
• E-mailing friends and family is the Web service most frequently used.
• Seventy-nine percent of Internet users purchase products or services online, 58 percent book travel arrangements and 42 percent use it to pay bills.
• Seventy-three percent of Web surfers use a search engine, 58 percent send or receive photos, 63 percent read stories or other text and 55 percent use it to play games.
- Shelley Grieshop
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