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Low-cost internet is coming to least connected Cuyahoga County neighborhoods

Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted talk before a news conference announcing an expansion of broadband service.
Nick Castele
Ideastream Public Media
Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted talk before a news conference announcing an expansion of broadband service.

Cuyahoga County and the state of Ohio are trying to sign up 25,000 people for internet service in the county’s least-connected neighborhoods.

The state and county are splitting the cost of a $19.4 million contract with the Minnesota-based nonprofit PCs for People to offer the $15-per-month service.

Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, a Republican, joined Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish, Council President Pernel Jones and other local Democratic officials at the Brooklyn branch of the county library system Wednesday for a news conference touting the new investment.

Meager internet access is a problem in both rural and urban parts of Ohio, the lieutenant governor said.

“Why does it matter that we expand broadband to people?” Husted said. “Because you can’t participate in the modern economy, healthcare or education system without it. That’s why it’s so important.”

An estimated 98,000 households – almost 18% of Cuyahoga County – have no internet subscription, according to 2020 figures from the U.S. Census Bureau. Another 10% connect to the internet only through a phone data plan.

The first phase will set up connections in Brooklyn, Bedford, East Cleveland, Parma, Warrensville Heights and parts of Cleveland by January 2023, Budish said. There is no income limit for potential customers who live in Census tracts where the service will be available, PCs for People CEO Casey Sorensen said.

“We targeted the lowest-income neighborhoods and the least-connected neighborhoods across the county, and we want to impact them no matter what the income level of the people in those areas are,” Sorensen said. “So everyone will be able to sign up for the $15 a month home internet.”

While the service itself is not free, low-income families can sign up for federal assistance to pay the monthly fee.

Cuyahoga County Council originally slated almost $20 million for the contract from its American Rescue Plan Act allocation. The state’s decision to cover half the tab will release around $10 million in the county’s federal funds for other purposes.

Cleveland has also set aside $20 million from its share of ARPA to expand broadband access. Earlier this month, Mayor Justin Bibb’s administration released a request for proposals from companies interested in providing low-cost service.

Nick Castele was a senior reporter covering politics and government for Ideastream Public Media. He worked as a reporter for Ideastream from 2012-2022.