Buckeye Hills Regional Council is a recipient of a 2020 Aliceann Wholburck Impact Award from the National Association of Development Organizations for its role in a regional broadband study for southeast Ohio.

The Impact Awards program honors NADO members for their creative approaches to advancing regional economic development and improved quality of life.

In 2019, Buckeye Hills Regional Council conducted an eight-county study funded by the Appalachian Regional Commission in collaboration with Ohio University Voinovich School and The Athens County Economic Development Council.

The findings of the study presented a stark picture of the state of broadband in southeast Ohio. The study found that in areas with fewer than 20 households per square mile, between 80% and 90% of those households have no access to broadband services. Meanwhile, 75% of the entire study area lacks service that meets the Federal Communications Commission’s definition of broadband of 25 Mbps download speed and 3 Mbps upload speed. Additionally, the study found that mobile data and voice service remains largely absent from the region, while basic telephone service in much of the region relies on copper cables that are beyond their engineered end-of-life, leaving affected areas without reliable life and safety communications.

This digital desert persists despite Ohio telecommunications carriers receiving $1.4 billion from the FCC Universal Service Fund for rural telecommunications infrastructure since 2001.

“This project allowed us to take several critical steps: gaining insight to the real challenges we face in providing broadband to Appalachian Ohio; understanding the resources available to assist in that challenge; and beginning to understand the resources that can help us make systemic change on the issue,” said Bret Allphin, Development Director for Buckeye Hills Regional Council. “We were proud to partner on the undertaking of the Broadband Feasibility study with our colleagues at the Athens County Economic Development Council and Ohio University.”

“Broadband accessibility is essential in our work to strengthen local and regional economies,” said Sara Marrs-Maxfield, Executive Director of the Athens Council Economic Development Council. “By addressing the need for broadband in our rural communities, we endeavor to combat poverty by increasing opportunities for all. This project was an important first step to understand the magnitude of partnerships that will be needed to make broadband for all possible”.

“The Voinovich School is proud to serve as a partner on this critical initiative and congratulates Buckeye Hills on this much-deserved award,” Mark Weinberg, Dean of Ohio University’s Voinovich School of Leadership and Public Affairs, said. “They have long led the local fight for broadband expansion, which is absolutely key to economic and community recovery in our region.”

The findings of the study and information about the ongoing effort of Buckeye Hills and its partners to bridge the digital divide in southeast Ohio can be found online at buckeyehills.org/broadband.

The 2020 class of NADO’s awardees consists of 79 projects from 48 organizations spanning 19 states.  The full list of awardees is available online at nado.org.

To learn more about Buckeye Hills Regional Council, visit www.buckeyehills.org, call 740-374-9436 or 1-800-331-2644 (toll free), or email info@buckeyehills.org

Buckeye Hills Regional Council is a council of governments dedicated to improving the lives of residents in southeast Ohio. By working collaboratively with elected officials across Athens, Hocking, Meigs, Monroe, Morgan, Noble, Perry, and Washington counties, Buckeye Hills connects local, state, and federal resources to communities with their Aging & Disability, Community Development, Mapping & Data, Population Health, and Transportation Planning divisions.