Cuyahoga County Executive Armond Budish announced a major project last week to expand wireless internet access to approximately 70% of Cleveland’s Central neighborhood, and provide Internet equipment to 500 of 2,500 households.
Budish called it part of a broader effort to revitalize Cleveland’s urban core—starting with the Central Neighborhood Surge pilot program—in partnership with DigitalC, a nonprofit focused on making access to the internet equitable.
County Executive Armond Budish speaks to a resident during the event in the Central neighborhood.The plan will provide affordable internet to the neighborhood, says Budish, where currently more half of the households do not have internet access, compared to 19% without internet access in the rest of Cuyahoga County.
Budish says Central is one of the least-connected neighborhoods in the region, and connecting Central residents to low-cost, high-speed internet is critical in closing the digital divide.
“We’re excited,” Budish says. “People can’t go without Internet these days. We saw how critical it was during the pandemic, when kids were told to go online to learn. For adults, how do you survive if you want to look for a job or need to send out a resume—or just check the news.”
The $600,000-plus project is the first part of Budish’s Neighborhood Surge plan that focuses on Central this year. Cuyahoga County is contributing $330,000 to the internet infrastructure effort, with additional investments from DigitalC and a not-yet-approved grant application for federal funding completed by the Cleveland Public Library. Installation work is slated to begin in mid-November, and Budish says residents can start signing up for service shortly after installation begins.
Jim Kenny, spokesperson for DigitalC, says the overall project to outfit rooftops with equipment to beam the Internet service to customers will cost $1.72 million, with DigitalC contributing the lion’s share of that cost. He says the nonprofit is seeking donations to help offset those installation costs.
Once installed, the high-speed Internet service will cost under $20 a month, with no up-front costs, contract or credit check required, Kenny says.
“All of which are historic barriers to connecting the unconnected,” he added.
Since announcing plans for the Central surge in May, Budish has been hosting listening events to gather resident feedback on the most critical needs. The last meeting was held in mid-August, and Budish says his office has already started implementing programs, although the surge hasn’t been without controversy over whether or not the county has gathered enough resident input on the plan.
“We’re doing a number of things already,” he says. “We’ve already done a jobs fair, and we’ve met with Burten, Bell Carr [Development] about the need for a new recreation center.
Budish says other programs the county is currently working on in Central—based on resident feedback—are a jobs training program, bringing healthcare and mental health programs to the neighborhood, and overall economic development.
Joy Johnson, executive director of Burten, Bell, Carr Development Inc., speaks during a Cuyahoga County event meant to gather input on the “surge” in Cleveland’s Central neighborhood in mid-August.“We’re focused on economic development that will attract and support small businesses out there,” Budish says, adding that this aspect also includes bringing a grocery store to the neighborhood. “It’s one of the things the residents have expressed as really needing.”
Cuyahoga County also recently ended a request for proposals (RFP) for service providers to deploy new broadband services in the county on Wednesday, Sept. 8. The county said in a press release that it received nine proposals from providers to boost Internet access in census tracts where more than 20% of the population is unconnected, part of a plan to close the digital divide county-wide.
Budish says the country participated in a similar internet program in East Cleveland last year—successfully bringing affordable internet to 1,000 households.
“Slowly but surely, we’re working our way through areas that are most in need,” he says.