Summit County takes first steps on fiber internet project

·5 min read
Summit Connects is a high-speed and secure broadband public safety network.
Summit Connects is a high-speed and secure broadband public safety network.

Summit County is taking the first official steps forward on its high-speed and secure broadband public safety network, called Summit Connects.

The network will initially consist of a 125-mile fiber optic cable ring connecting Summit County and all its 31 city, village and township governments to gigabit-speed internet service, as well as a data center, the county said in a press release.

“The COVID-19 pandemic further exposed the growing digital divide present in Summit County, Ohio and the entire nation. Summit County and our 31 local governments are all in agreement. We need better internet options to provide the best public safety and other government services to our residents,” County Executive Ilene Shapiro said in a statement. “Summit Connects is a home-grown, cost-effective solution that meets the needs of our local communities.”

The preliminary intent of the network is to provide a high-speed, secure and affordable broadband platform to host each community’s public safety operations, the county said. The network will be serviced by the municipal broadband utility Fairlawn Gig, which is owned and operated by the city of Fairlawn.

“Building this critical infrastructure today will make our county safer tomorrow, and open doors for future innovation,” Fairlawn Mayor Bill Roth said in a statement. “We have significant experience building and operating a broadband utility and look forward to sharing our knowledge with our partners throughout this project.”

Once construction begins, the county expects the fiber ring and data center to be operational by 2025.

In the second phase of the project, the county said it will work with local communities to explore the feasibility of expanding Summit Connects through internet service providers to residents, businesses, schools and other interested entities.

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11% of Summit County is underserved on internet access

According to BroadbandOhio and the Ohio Department of Development, 11% of Summit County’s populated area lacks access to the minimum levels of upload and download speeds.

The county said in the press release that smaller communities may also "lack financial means to access the highest quality service needed to optimize their operations.”

It added that there is a need for a secure and reliable network to host government operations.

“Currently, local governments are as limited as consumers when selecting an internet provider, and like consumers, their geographical location can limit access to the highest speeds.”

The county said that once operational, Summit Connects will enable the county and all 31 communities to reduce collective costs through consolidation and use of a single data center.

“This platform will provide redundancy and enhance information sharing and interoperability for all 31 Summit County communities during emergencies and day-to-day operations,” the county press release said. “In addition, the data center will consolidate essential services such as data storage, data backup, disaster recovery, data security and co-location of services.”

Several pieces of legislation related to the project were introduced at Summit County Council last week, including a cooperative agreement between Summit County and the city of Fairlawn, formalizing the partnership and entity that will eventually own and operate the data center and fiber ring.

The other pieces of legislation will award contracts to two firms for design services: a $100,000 contract with The Thrasher Group for design of the fiber ring and a $100,000 contract with Mann Parsons Gray Architects for the design of the data center.

Fairlawn recently introduced legislation to its City Council to enable the creation of a Council of Governments to operate and maintain the fiber ring and data center.

The legislation will be discussed in Monday's committee meetings.

Because Monday is council’s last day before its summer break, there’s also a council meeting scheduled for immediately after the committee meetings. Council could vote on the legislation at that time; otherwise, it would have to wait to vote until members return from summer break in August.

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Summit Connects funded through American Rescue Plan Act

The project, officially called the Summit County Public Safety Fiber and Communications Network, is one of the county’s largest capital projects ever and is being funded with a combination of county money and part of the $105.1 million it received through the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA).

The costs include:

• $35 million in ARPA money for the fiber ring design and construction.

• $22 million in county general capital improvement funds to pay for the design, construction and operating reserves of the data center.

“The American Rescue Plan Act has granted Summit County a once in a lifetime opportunity to make targeted investments in local infrastructure. In addition to funding critical water and sewer projects, ARPA funds are empowering us to position our county for the future,” County Council President Elizabeth Walters said in a statement. “Summit Connects will help us achieve our long-term economic, educational and social development goals and strategic plans.”

The county is using the ARPA money it received to fund projects it hasn’t been able to afford, including creating a stormwater district.

The county has invested millions of dollars in technology upgrades in recent years, including the ongoing construction of a regional dispatch center in Tallmadge and the Criminal Justice Virtual Courtroom Project.

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Contact Beacon Journal reporter Emily Mills at emills@thebeaconjournal.com and on Twitter @EmilyMills818.

This article originally appeared on Akron Beacon Journal: Summit County takes first steps on fiber internet project Summit Connects