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Friday, March 5th, 2010

Phone company gets $4.3 million in stimulus dollars

By Shelley Grieshop
A local telephone company was awarded $4.3 million to expand broadband (high-speed) service in the Fort Recovery area.
Wabash Mutual Telephone Co. was the largest recipient of the nearly $10 million awarded to three Ohio broadband service providers. The local cooperative company intends to use the funds to provide a fiber optic network for digital television, high-speed Internet and telephone service in the southern portion of the county.
"We're really excited about it," said Mike Boley, CEO of the company. "We're pleased to receive this great opportunity for our company and the people in the Fort Recovery area."
Boley said many residents in the Fort Recovery area have access to high-speed service but it is much slower than what fiber optic cables can provide.
Work on the project is expected to begin in several weeks; completion time is under three years, he added.
"We've already started working in some areas north of Fort Recovery," Boley said.
Wabash Mutual's award is divided into a $2.2 million low-interest loan and a $2.1 million grant. The funding is administered partly by the USDA Rural Utility Service through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act or stimulus funding.
Boley said he will hire two additional full-time employees to help with the coming project. His company currently employs 18 full-time workers.
Also receiving a portion of the $10 million stimulus grant is Intellwave, $2.2 million, to benefit Athens, Fairfield and Pickaway county residents; and Benton Ridge Telephone Co., $3 million for Hancock County residents.
The state of Ohio in recent years has campaigned to improve broadband access to generate economic activity, and create and protect jobs. Rural areas such as Mercer County typically have less broadband access because costs for providers and consumers is much higher, officials say.
According to the Ohio Consumers Counsel, about 92 percent of Mercer County residents and almost 99 percent of Auglaize County already have some type of broadband access.
A recent study by the Brookings Institute found that for every one percent of increased broadband access, a state could expect a 0.2-0.3 percent growth in employment.
Mercer County commissioners and other top officials in the area have been working the last year with Connect Ohio, a non-profit group hired by the state in December 2007 to promote broadband Internet coverage and utilization in all 88 counties. Periodic meetings have been held in the county to pinpoint needs and develop plans of action.
According to data supplied by Connect Ohio, Mercer County has dead zones where high-speed service is either not available or not accessed by residents for unknown reasons.
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