County engineer sees issues with potential fiber project

February 15, 2020

By Heather Willard

For residents of rural Ohio, internet access can be spotty or non-existent outside of city limits.

A project from the Ohio Department of Transportation aims to bring fiber internet through Athens County on non-state routes. However, the project would not provide the area with the upgraded internet, County Engineer Jeff Maiden told the Athens County Commissioners on Feb. 11.

Maiden told the commissioners the plan would be to bring a fiber cable from Columbus to Washington D.C. as part of the Route 33 Smart Mobility Corridor plan. The overall project will provide two fiber lines — one along the Route 33 right-of-way, and another to serve as an “enhanced connection for the Ohio Academic Resources Network and the Department of Administrative Services Office of Information Technology as well as a test bed for connecting road side units,” according to the corridor project website.

“The secondary route will be constructed along state, county, and municipal routes and will serve as a back-up line for the U.S. 33 connection as well as a high-speed data link for local governments and businesses,” the website statement continued.

Maiden said the plan would put the fiber cable on sections of the county’s roadways in the right of way that already have limited space.

“The problem is these drawings don’t show the other utilities,” he explained. “There’s no mapping of existing utilities. The problem with all this is: this is an inter-state fiber cable and we have limited utility space.”

Maiden noted that in places along the mapped route, the county only has 10 feet of right-of-way space. Water, sewer, gas and other telecommunications providers use the space.

“It doesn’t do anything for the local residents, so I think they should look at partnering with a local ISP provider,” Maiden said. “We should be reserving some of our space underground for local, rural fiber.”

Maiden said in the past, he has denied all requests for longitudinal, underground fiber lines, and instead has had them installed overhead.

Commissioner President Lenny Eliason told Maiden to treat ODOT’s proposal the same as any other service provider’s request.

Read more in the Athens Messenger