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How connected is our region?

Published: June 7, 2017 12:00 AM

Just how connected is this part of Ohio?

It's the question the Ohio Department of Transportation asked Connected Nation's (CN) subsidiary, Connect Ohio, to answer in an effort to improve its dispatch and routing software and hardware.

Chip Spann is the Director of Engineering and Technical Services (ETS) for CN and leads the drive-testing work being done for ODOT, and he's begun sharing CN's findings with community leaders and public safety officials. He says the updated data maps reveal serious issues that not only impact public transportation but public safety.

"As we go over the gaps in broadband coverage, you see a light bulb go off for people. They're realizing this is not just about being able to use your phone to post selfies. And, it's not just about self-driving vehicles or public transportation," Spannsaid. "There's a bigger piece of this in regard to public safety. Imagine if you're in a car wreck and you're hurt. Having a way to get help can mean the difference between life and death. The same goes for law enforcement. What happens if an officer gets into a dangerous situation and can't contact someone? Or, what if a person who is stopped for a routine traffic violation is actually a criminal and they are only ticketed and not taken into custody simply because the officer has no way of knowing that person is a danger to the public?"

ODOT was awarded 2015 Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) VII competitive grant program funds by U.S. Transportation Secretary Anthony Foxx to improve Ohio's rural transit systems' scheduling and dispatching software/hardware and to expand broadband into areas of Ohio with insufficient broadband access.

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Through Connect Ohio's analysis, 10 counties in southeast Ohio were identified as having the greatest need to improve broadband access: Carroll, Guernsey, Harrison, Morgan, Monroe, Muskingum, Perry, Pike, Scioto, and Washington counties. ODOT asked CN to complete drive-testing in these ten counties and identify gaps in mobile broadband performance for the four major carriers--Verizon, T-Mobile, AT&T, and Sprint--and provide solutions that could help fill those gaps.

"We found a substantial difference in the "perceived" coverage reported by the mobile carriers in these counties," Spann said. "While their coverage maps are often based on predictive propagation models, we took the long and in-depth approach of drive testing every inch of those ten counties that we could physically access."

Recognizing the issues that arise through inaccurate mapping, a bipartisan group of seven U.S. Senators filed a bill in mid-May to require the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to collect accurate and up-to-date data on wireless broadband coverage. Dubbed the Rural Wireless Act of 2017, the bill would help provide access to families, businesses, schools, agricultural producers, first responders, and others in rural areas by ensuring current mobile broadband coverage data is accurate and up-to-date.

"Having good data is where everything starts," said Tom Ferree, CEO of CN. "There is no way for a county commissioner, much less an FCC commissioner, to know what really needs to be done until accurate data is collected and analyzed. For that reason, Connected Nation has always relied on a team of skilled broadband engineers and GIS analysts to not only map where broadband is and where it isn't, but in also determining that where access does exist, is it truly to today's requirements for speed and reliability.

"The broadband mapping methodologies that we have developed and continue to evolve allow us to pinpoint the areas that are consistently being left out," said Ashley Hitt, Director of GIS Services for CN. "For mobile wireless coverage, we've been able to collect and analyze very detailed data for a number of carriers across the country that not only show the service gaps, but help both local officials and the ISPs visualize where expansion efforts should be focused."

The next step will be getting proposals from mobile carriers for meeting those needs. ODOT will be offering up some of its assets (e.g., land, rooftops, and towers) and, through Connect Ohio, administering federals funds for those mobile carriers to complete the work. If all goes as planned, many of these gaps in broadband coverage in southern Ohio will be filled by December 31, 2018.

ODOT's mission is to provide easy movement of people and goods from place to place, while

This project supports ODOT's mission by improving safety, cost effectiveness, and service efficiency.

For more information, please visit: www.connectednation.org/. Follow Connected Nation on Facebook and Twitter.


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