Unlike in rural areas, where high-speed internet service is scarce, the city of Columbus is saturated with broadband internet providers who give residents multiple options to hook up to fast service.
But many city residents still don’t have high-speed service. That’s likely because the high price is keeping many low-income households from affording it, a report commissioned by the Columbus Foundation found.
Now, using $500,000 in federal COVID-19 relief dollars, the city of Columbus and the Columbus Partnership, an organization representing the leaders of the city’s largest corporations and organizations, are seeking to create a wireless broadband link to two test neighborhoods, on the South Side and the Near East Side.
Tapping into city-owned fiber optic lines that are used to connect police substations, fire stations, traffic lights, data centers and other city operations, the new high-speed links will attempt to substantially undercut the roughly $50 to $60 a month cost of basic high-speed internet service from private providers. The pilot program will include about 200 qualifying households with public school students.
The pilot will use different technology in each of the two neighborhoods, said Sam Orth III, the city’s director of technology.
In one, the city will use Citizens Broadband Radio Service (or CBRS, “essentially private 5G”), which uses a neighborhood radio transmitter connected to the city’s fiber network, Orth said. The system can connect with homes in a 1 mile to 1.5 mile radius, providing up to 100 homes with download speeds of up to 30 Mbps for between $15 to $25 a month.
“In homes, there is essentially a 5G radio that communicates with a 5G tower, and it converts it inside the home to WiFi,” Orth said.
The second pilot neighborhood will be served by “dense millimeter waves,” also a technology used by some 5G providers to send large amounts of data.
“It’s a narrow broadcast versus wide broadcast,” sent by a transmitter that is connected to the city’s fiber in a directional “line of sight” path, gaining higher bandwidth per user, Orth said. The signal is targeted on a distribution point, which then extends it into homes, he said. Two vendors have been selected, and an announcement is pending, Orth said.
The goal is to test the technology and evaluate cost and performance.
The vendors will be selected by representatives from the Partnership, the city, Columbus City Schools, the Columbus Foundation and Ohio State University.
The project’s goal is a cost to monthly customers as low as $10 to deliver 50 Mbps download speeds and 25 Mbps upload speeds.
Officials said that when Columbus City Schools students had to learn at home starting in March because of the pandemic, as many as 1 in 4 students couldn’t fully engage in distance learning because of poor internet access.
In late October, Columbus Schools Superintendent Talisa Dixon put the figure of nonengaging online district students at about 3%, or 1,600 out of roughly 50,000, scattered across all regions, and it has continued to drop. A district spokeswoman said the district is using a different method of attendance that can’t be compared to the numbers in March.
The situation has improved since the spring, partly because the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, Education Service Center of Central Ohio and PCs for People worked to address broadband access gaps by deploying wireless hotspot or cable modem-like devices for low-income neighborhoods.
While the federal funds being used are intended to address pandemic needs, the Partnership’s program is long term in nature. The ultimate goal of future phases is to reach service speeds of 1 gigabit per second within five years.
The first phase is being entirely funded with federal COVID-19 CARES Act dollars, while funding for future phases hasn’t been identified, said Jennifer Fening, a spokeswoman for the Partnership.
The Columbus City Council ordinance approving the $500,000 grant to the Partnership said K-12 public education was “in the midst of a teaching and learning paradigm shift that began before the COVID-19 pandemic,” a crisis that has “reinforced the need to move to a virtual and blended learning approach.”
“The digital divide existed in our community long before COVID-19, but the pandemic has laid bare the inequities created when members of our community lack access to the internet, and are unable to fully participate in today’s digital society,” Fening said in an email.
The pilot will require tapping into the city’s “dark fiber,” meaning its network’s unused capacity. The project considered hooking up fiber cables directly to homes, but found it would be too expensive and take too long.
The target students will be those who attend both Columbus City Schools and charter schools.
Website of source