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Akron's new mayor promised to join Summit Connects. What would this mean for residents?

Green ethernet cables connect to a router.
Andrei Metelev
Summit Connects will be a high speed broadband network built by Summit County.

Summit County is working on a broadband network to connect the entire county to highspeed internet. One of Akron's new mayor's campaign promises is committing the city to join the project, according to Shammas Malik's campaign website.

The pandemic highlighted the importance of highspeed internet to life in the 21st century, from work to school to healthcare. Inaccessible or unaffordable broadband disproportionately impacts low income people and people of color, Malik said. Joining Summit Connects will help bridge the digital divide, he claimed, and build a more worker friendly community to attract young people and bolster the city's population, which has been declining for 50 years.

The county is using American Rescue Plan Act dollars to fund a 125 mile fiber optic cable ring connecting 31 communities in the county, outlined by Summit County Executive Ilene Shapiro in 2022, according to the county. The idea is based on FairlawnGig, Fairlawn's municipal broadband utility, county officials said.

The project is currently in the design process, Brian Nelsen, the chief of staff in the county executive’s office, said.

“We should within the next several weeks have our final design work completed on the ring," he said.

The county hopes to open the bidding process for construction in early 2024, Nelsen said.

“It would be the, I believe, the only true high-speed fiber-based network in the county," he said.

Summit Connects will offer great customer service and fixed rate pricing, Nelsen said.

“None of these 'get it this price for the first 12 months, and then after 12 months your plan goes up,'" he said. "And you basically almost have to call and threaten to cancel it to get them to agree to do anything differently.”

The network will also have higher speeds and be more reliable, Nelsen said.

"I know folks experience at certain times of the day or on busy weekend times where their internet slows down," he said. "None of that would happen with true high speed fiber."

The county is working to address cost and affordability to compete with private internet companies, he said.

The plan originally included building a data center as well, but the county has paused this part of the project, Nelsen said.

Malik also targeted childcare, transportation and healthcare access as barriers his administration wants to address, with ideas to create affordable childcare options and create alternative transportation models.

Abigail Bottar covers Akron, Canton, Kent and the surrounding areas for Ideastream Public Media.