Thousands of Cuyahoga County residents could soon get access to high-speed internet, but some are likely to see the improvements sooner than others.
Cuyahoga County will formally introduce the plan for a $19.4 million broadband expansion at a Tuesday meeting, with the goal of adding high-speed internet access in three phases.
PCs for People, which is set to execute the contract for the county, promises 100 mbps upload and download speeds for 25,000 households, according to county documents. For comparison, Netflix recommends an internet connection of at least 15 mbps to stream 4K or Ultra HD, the highest-definition video the company offers.
The first phase, scheduled to take six months, includes Bedford, Brooklyn, East Cleveland, Parma and Warrensville Heights. The Slavic Village, Buckeye and St. Clair-Superior neighborhoods of Cleveland are also projected to see upgrades.
The second phase, scheduled to be finished in roughly 12 months, includes Euclid, Garfield Heights, Lakewood and Maple Heights, according to county documents.
The third and final phase, scheduled to be finished in roughly 24 months, includes Bedford Heights, Cleveland Heights, Highland Mills, Mayfield Heights, North Randall, Parma Heights, Richmond Heights and South Euclid.
A Friday news release from the county said the $19.4 million would come from the American Rescue Plan Act, often abbreviated ARPA, and would provide high-speed access to 85% of “unconnected” households.
Once installed, broadband established through this program will cost $15, unless the resident qualifies for the federal Affordable Connectivity Program, in which case the costs would be covered, according to a Friday news release.
Cuyahoga County chose PCs for People, a Minnesota-based nonprofit, after a bidding process that began in 2021 and elicited responses from 81 vendors. PCs for People received higher scores than competitors, which included massive companies such as AT&T Services, Spectrum and T-Mobile, according to county documents.
The Cuyahoga County contract is a massive get, financially, for PCs for People. In 2018, PCs for People had total revenue of $6.4 million, according to the most recent tax records available. While the nonprofit grew steadily between 2014 and 2018, records show, the $12.4 million PCs for people will receive in the first year alone of the contract is a significant windfall for the nonprofit.
PCs for People, which has a history of distributing computers to low-income families, gets its revenue through public grants, internet subscriptions, recycling old computer parts, fixing computers and more, according to its tax forms.
The push to boost wireless access follows the COVID-19 pandemic, which increased the need for quality internet access, and a census data analysis that found Cleveland had the worst internet access of any US city with more than 100,000 households.
Both Cleveland and Cuyahoga County have made their own moves in an attempt to remedy the city’s relatively poor connectivity.
When then-Cleveland City Council President Kevin Kelley announced the plan to spend $20 million of his own ARPA money on broadband expansion in September 2021, he said the goal was to connect 40,000 homes, partially using matching funds.
Kelly, who was running for mayor when the announcement was made, was accused of rushing through a popular, yet half-baked plan to gain political points.
Shortly before Kelly had even introduced that plan, however, Cuyahoga County had been working on an adjacent program with another nonprofit, DigitalC, to provide internet access to Cleveland’s Central neighborhood. The DigitalC program is separate from the program that is set to be managed by PCs for People.
The DigitalC program was both less expensive and smaller in scope than the program PCs for people could oversee.
DigitalC had bid to do work on the county’s $20 million ARPA-funded project and received a score of 70.6 out of 100, ranking No. 2 overall and just .1 point higher than AT&T. PCs for People received a score of 84.5, exceeding DigitalC in every category except “project management,” in which both groups received a 4.2 out of 5, according to county documents.