OARnet enables expansion of broadband access through Ohio Pilot Project

The Ohio Academic Resources Network (OARnet) has pushed Ohio forward for more than 30 years with advanced networking and technology solutions serving the government, education, health care and public broadcasting communities. 

Ohio is awash in innovation in response to COVID-19, as illustrated by a pilot project to deliver affordable internet wirelessly to students and families in one rural school district, all enabled by OARnet’s flexible and ultra-fast, fiber-optic network. Funded by Ohio’s K-12 Broadband Connectivity Grant and the Federal CARES Act, the initiative will help provide affordable high-speed internet access to students of Riverside Local Schools, a population largely underserved by broadband.

“The great news about this project is it’s not only serving the school and the students, but it’s serving the local community as well,” said Ohio Lt. Gov. Jon Husted. “They are going to have access to high-speed internet in all of these small rural towns, places that never had access before, because we’ve created new partnerships with the private sector, the not-for-profit sector, and the government sector.”

The pilot project will install new fixed wireless technology on existing structures and use the school’s OARnet connection to broadcast to surrounding communities. The installation is expected to bring broadband access to approximately 600 households in three surrounding towns.

Households within range will connect to high-speed internet inside their homes through a partnership with PCs for People, a national non-profit organization that wipes all data, refurbishes, and then distributes digital devices to low-income households. Service is offered at rates as low as $15 per month with estimated speeds of 50 Mbps download and 5 Mbps upload, twice that of the federal definition of high-speed internet, with no contract and no monthly equipment fees.

The school district is subsidizing the upfront cost of routers to help many low-income households, providing an important opportunity for students to do their schoolwork remotely and families to work from home.

While projects like this illustrate the power of flexibility for research and education (R&E) networks, scalability and security are equally as important. In a test of both, OARnet provided connectivity for the first 2020 Presidential Debate held in Cleveland at the Health Education Campus shared by Case Western Reserve University and the Cleveland Clinic. This followed a successful Democratic primary debate at Otterbein University in Westerville, with connectivity provided by OARnet. 

COVID-19 has created unprecedented challenges but OARnet has thrived. Early in the outbreak, OARnet provided emergency bandwidth increases for 62 clients – including higher education, K-12 ITCs and large urban districts, state and local government agencies, and a research center – collectively more than doubling the available bandwidth for these clients. 

More recently, OARnet worked with the Ohio Department of Higher Education to secure Governor’s Emergency Education Relief funding to increase bandwidth from 1 to 10 Gbps for 40 institutions and to double the commercial internet subscriptions for all 87 OARnet higher education clients. A similar effort is now in the planning stages for K-12 clients.