PREBLE COUNTY — Watch Communications will be partnering with Preble County entities — including the Preble County Board of Commissioners — to bring broadband to the most rural areas, parts of the county where internet has been expensive and inaccessible.
This is the result of a partnership between the Lima-based company and Microsoft Corporation. They aim to extend internet access to parts of Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois over the next three years. However, Preble County Commissioner Rodney Creech would like it to be clear there will still be areas where internet is not accessible.
“There are still going to be problems and blind spots. There is no such thing as 100 percent. There will probably still be dead spots and I don’t know how Watch Communications is going to address that,” he said.
However, this will help businesses and individuals alike access something that has become common place and necessary for many — the internet.
“One of the biggest issues we’re seeing in rural communities is the lack of internet services and the quality of internet services,” Creech said. “We used to be a very manual society — we used encyclopedias, dictionaries, and did homework at school. Today, nobody knows what an encyclopedia or dictionary is, we all use our phones. One of the issues we’re finding is through high school, colleges, and even work.
“People can’t work from home, they can’t do their homework, they can’t do things because we’re so dependent on the internet. One of the biggest challenges we’ve had as rural communities is getting access to the internet. In order for businesses and students to be successful, broadband is [necessary].”
Watch Communications is a subsidiary of Benton Ridge Telephone Company and was established in 1992. From there, the company began it’s journey as a Cable tv provider that expanded service offerings at the beginning of the broadband internet revolution in 1990 to include internet. Watch Communications focuses on un-served and under-served small and rural markets throughout Indiana and Ohio, alongside sister company Community Fiber Solutions.
Today, Watch Communications has grown to service over 24,000 homes and businesses throughout Indiana and Ohio. They are also expanding services to Illinois.
According to representatives with Watch Communications, rural America does not have the same resources as an urban/metropolitan market, simply because of geography. They are interested in “closing the divide.” Some of the reasons they believe this is necessary are:
•College graduates are one of the midwest’s largest exports.
•Midwest territories are losing percentage to urban/metro-markets.
•Lack of technological development is limiting economic growth.
•Manufacturers and employers are moving to markets with more available resources.
Watch Communications won $52.3 million in Connect America Funding to be used over Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois. However, there are certain requirements to receive that funding:
•Of the network, 40 percent must be completed in each state by year three.
•All of the network — 100 percent — must be completed in each state by year six.
•They must provide a reliable voice service across the entire network.
•25/3 or 100/20 service must be available.
According to Commissioner Creech, Watch Communications plans to “close the gap” of internet service through “vertical assets,” which include various towers and even grain legs.
“We’re going to use this grain leg that is up in the air, we’re going to use this tower that is up in the air, this water tower, or get access to the Sheriff’s tower. The problem is, the county doesn’t own a lot of vertical assets, but we have a lot of vertical assets in the county. Watch Communications, we’ve offered to help them, they will be coming to meetings to work with local farmers and ask for access to their towers. We’re going to try to get the boots on the ground in all 12 townships to help get the word out,” he said.
Which is why this next step is important: Watch Communications will be meeting with various entities — including Township Associations — to build relationships and gain support.
“This is an initiative that we have to have good input from our residents for. The townships are the closest form of government, they know what is going on. Township Trustees normally know everybody, they know where they grain legs are, they know the people. If a guy from Watch Communications comes up and says, ‘Can we use your grain leg?’ The answer is going to be no. If the guy you’ve known your whole life who is a township trustee comes up and says, ‘Can we use your grain leg, and this is why?’ They’re going to be a lot more receptive. It is local people working with local people,” Creech said.
Ultimately, Creech views this as a positive and necessary step for Preble County.
“We’re excited about this because it is going to be good for everyone, from top to bottom, whether it is the individual wanting to look on their phone or the business who can’t run their business because they don’t have internet access,” Creech said. “The commissioners view it as a new service to the people of our community, but when people look at places to live they’re looking at school districts, grocery stores, and internet access.”
Reach Kelsey Kimbler at 937-683-4061 or on Twitter @KKimbler_RH