Month: April 2016
Internet in Perry county is disappointingly slow and expensive compared to the rest of the Ohio.
Lynn Warner just wants faster Internet.
At her home in Noble County, the Caldwell Public Library librarian subscribes to Frontier Communications Corporation’s Digital Subscriber Line (DSL) — a souped-up version of dial-up that relies on bundles of telephone lines to deliver data. She is not located close enough to her provider’s equipment get faster speeds, and competing regional companies do not offer better packages in her area. “I’m too far out,” she says.
Warner is one of the lucky ones. According to a 2014 survey by Connect Ohio, a subsidiary of the nonprofit Internet advocacy group Connected Nation, a majority of Noble County’s 14,645 residents – roughly a third – lack any choice in Internet service.
Slow downloads and limited access
Internet speeds are measured in bits per second, or the amount of information transferred over a fixed period of time. On a typical DSL connection of 500Kbps (0.5Mbps), a four-minute, 4Mb song takes a little over a minute to download. The county’s average connection in the United States was 31Mbps as of September 2014, according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the agency of the United States government charged with regulating interstate communications including Internet.
The FCC has long maintained that so-called broadband Internet — connections faster than traditional dial-up – has transformative potential. In its 2010 National Broadband Plan, the agency argued that broadband had a vital role to play in education, health care and small business.
Executive Director of Connect Ohio Lindsay Shanahan says that rural Ohio’s agricultural sector stands to benefit in particular. Farms with broadband can achieve higher efficiency with such technologies as GPS-enabled tractors that fertilize economically soil sensors that shut off valves to prevent overwatering. “There are plenty of opportunities for higher sales and greater production [in] broadband,” she says.
Arguably as important as the applications that Internet enables are the access to information which broadband affords. Noble County very nearly meets the definition of a “media desert” — a geographic locale without access to fresh local news, says Dr. Michelle Ferrier, principal investigator for The Media Deserts Project and Dean of Innovation at the Scripps College of Communication at Ohio University. According to the project’s maps, less than 25 percent of the population has access to a newspaper.
The FCC’s plan calls for tens of millions of Americans to gain access to download speeds of at least 100Mbps over the next few years. In Noble County, that vision is far from realized: Connect Ohio reports that only 57 percent of residents subscribe to broadband at home.
In fact, many residents of Noble County rely on Caldwell’s library for fast Internet. “People come here every day to do schoolwork and work and check their e-mail,” Warner says. The library offers six terminal stations and three card catalog computers in addition to free Wi-Fi, which it launched when it upgraded to Time Warner Cable broadband several years ago. “I often see the same people come every day,” Warner says.
Expensive connections and few choices
Affordability is a part of the problem. A combined 27 percent of Noble County residents without broadband cited “expense” as the biggest barrier to subscription, according to Connect Ohio, and a national study by the Pew Research Center found that one out of ten households with incomes less than $30,000 reported having high-speed Internet access versus six out of ten households with incomes less than $100,000 (Noble County’s median household income was $39,500 according to the 2011 United States Census).
Just how expensive is broadband in Noble County? A plan with mobile carrier Sprint, one of the few Internet providers available in the county’s more remote regions, starts at $50 per month. An analogous offering from Verizon Wireless begins at $60, and both plans restrict the amount of data that can be consumed without penalty each month. The least expensive plan offered by satellite provider Hughes Communications, meanwhile, costs $60 per month for 10Mbps, and is also capped. By comparison, 15Mbps cap-free broadband in Columbus, Ohio starts at $35 per month.
Despite the absence of fast, cheap broadband Noble County, the region has not received as much attention as neighboring counties. In 2014, the Athens, Fairfield and Pickaway County Rural Broadband Initiative Project received a $2.2 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture to establish broadband infrastructure. In 2011, Washington County received $100,000 in funding from Ohio’s State Appalachian Development Program to assist in the development of high-speed Internet service.
But that is not to say the situation is not improving. The percentage of current home broadband subscribers, 57 percent, represents an increase from 2008, when just 21 percent in Noble County residents had a high-speed home connection. And in August 2015, major broadband providers CenturyLink, Cincinnati Bell, AT&T, FairPoint Communications, and Windstream Communications accepted $58.5 million in federal funding from the Federal Communication Commission to offer broadband to rural Ohio homes and businesses not currently being served.
The funding will “dramatically alter the broadband landscape in Ohio,” says Shanahan, but not overnight. The plans call for broadband network construction in rural areas over the next six years: 40 percent by the end of 2017, and 100 percent by the end of 2020. And it is not clear whether the Internet providers, which retain the power to choose which regions get broadband first, will prioritize Noble County over Southeast Ohio’s denser, higher-income counties.
For Warner’s part, she anxiously awaits the day when her home plan will be just as fast as the library’s connection. “I mostly want it to download books, actually,” she says. “Right now, it takes forever.”
Tucked away in a small town in Athens County called The Plains, an old miner’s house-turned-restaurant serves the appetite of locals and visitors alike. At the turn of the 20th century Athens County was amongst the most fruitful mining areas in Ohio, and The Plains was known as one of the coal-mining communities of Little Cities of Black Diamonds. Today, it houses families, small businesses and—for the past five years—a gourmet restaurant called 9 Tables.
In front of the little wooden house, a large steel sign that reads ‘9 Tables’ sways in the wind. Candles, wine bottles and various ornaments decorate the entrance to the restaurant. Inside, Bill Justice is busy preparing ingredients and cooking up sauces in the kitchen. His wife, Susanne, is setting the tables, ensuring that every glass is spotless and each fork is perfectly aligned with the plate next to it. In a black dress adorned with little gold sparkles, she seamlessly blends in with the jazz-inspired ambience of the place; the dark red walls are decorated with large paintings, old instruments and vintage dresses.
A Family Restaurant
True to its name, the restaurant only has nine tables and can seat up to 30 guests. Most evenings, Susanne and Bill run the place by themselves, however, on particularly busy evenings they will get outside help or have one of their daughters set up the tables or help serve the food. While the
food is epicurean and gourmet, the menu reads clean and the table setup is simple, “You can bring someone who has never gone to fine dining before and they immediately feel comfortable,“ Susanne explains.
Bill’s journey to owning a high-end restaurant has been rather unconventional; he used to work on a golf course, where he would occasionally meet French chefs, “They golfed poorly so they needed a fresh supply of golf balls all the time, and I would bring them golf balls and they would make me food. And I just wouldn’t leave them alone until they showed me how it worked,” Bill says.
Collaborating with Local Farmers
The menu varies each month and relies on fresh supply from local farmers and supermarkets, as everything is sourced locally. One of Bill’s signature dishes is mussels in white wine and cream sauce with garlic croutons. “I don’t have any secrets and I am always ready to show my guests how I make things” Bill says. The restaurant is open three days a week, from Thursday to Saturday. The couple tell their guests that while a dinner usually takes around 2 hours, a 7-hour dinner is not unheard of. With an open kitchen, and thus, an open view to Bill working his magic, time easily flies by. Bill pours wine into a pan so that flames spark from it, before he delicately arranges tonight’s course on one of the white round plates.
9 Tables is undoubtedly a high-end gourmet restaurant with superb food, but Bill and Susanne make it feel like a home where everyone is welcome.
4H collaborates with local Ohio county fairs, to engage children in science and agriculture programs. For more than a century the 4H Youth Development organization has been curating programs engaging children across America with agriculture and science. The organization offers everything from healthy living classes, […]
The historic Majestic Theater competes for renovation grants to bring life back into the first capitol
A Historic Past
The story of the Majestic Theater is one that echoes the story of its Chillicothe home. This towering playhouse sits mere blocks away from many of the town’s downtown restaurants and shops. While it can be said that the theater—and its neighborhood—have seen better days, the theater’s best days may not be behind it. A series of renovations could bring the theater into this century, opening the possibility of getting new money into the downtown area, while maintaining the integrity of this historic institution.
Built in 1853 as an entertainment center for the town, the Majestic featured a theater and a dance hall and was home to the town’s Mason Chapter. While the Mason’s would eventually leave the Majestic, their presence can still be felt on the building’s top floor. After the Freemasons moved, the theater would trade hands several times in the 20th century until it was bought by a trio of Chillicothe businessmen in 1990, who turned the decaying theater into a non-profit. “It’s about reliving history, which is what Chillicothe is known for,” says Gene Betts, a board member at the Majestic.
Once the new management had the Majestic, they did what they could at the time, giving it the service needed to bring the theater into the 1990s. Since then, the renovations the Majestic has received were mostly from state grants, but the theater is again showing its age.
Looking towards the future
Going into downtown Chillicothe, it is clear that something needs to bring people and money into the town. Along 2nd Street—one of the more developed streets in the downtown area—several empty storefronts, and the occasional dilapidated building, show some of the financial issues the city is going through. While the old buildings still have their beauty, some are sadly falling into disrepair. The money that was used in the 90s is gone, and while many are willing to help the Majestic, most simply are not able to make contributions that would help the theater in a meaningful way.
Which is another reason the Majestic’s supporters are fighting to get it restored. “There’s a huge focus on downtown revitalization, and this is a landmark, and get to get people downtown seeing shows,” Betts says. If the theater can earn this grant money and improve the Majestic, the aging theater has a chance at attracting larger shows, which will bring in more customers that the downtown needs.
Betts is not the only one thinking that; currently the city is in the beginning phases of renovations for East 2nd Street. Just next door, there are several empty storefronts being renovated, waiting for the right business to set up shop. The city and their Chamber of Commerce are constantly competing for state grants that could provide an injection of capital that could help restore Chillicothe to its former glory.
Looking at it’s face the Majestic is still a beautiful, and commanding building. Upon closer inspection the problems that plague the playhouse become apparent. The beautiful stained glass windows are bowing inwards from age and the elements. The bathrooms and lobby are small, and in the case of the men’s restroom almost unbearably so.
The Majestic’s age becomes apparent when one sees the state of the tattered red floral carpet that leads down some of the aisles in the main seating area. The ceilings, adorned with simple paintings fitting of a stage, are chipping away, but enough is still there to show their original beauty.
Along the left side of the theater that leads to the stage, the paint—and even pieces of the wall—began to crumble some time ago. As the paint breaks down, it covers the black power cords that power everything from lights to speakers for the stage. While most theaters have their lighting controls tucked away from the public eye, the Majestic has theirs controlled by an outdated, jury-rigged box. So, the operator is actually taking up balcony seats that could be used for patrons.
Restoring a Landmark
The Majestic is on track to receive $750,000, as part of a larger plan to renovate the town—should the state budget for the next fiscal year pass. Other works that are also receiving funding are the Chillicothe branch of Ohio University and a local athletic center. This grant would help the theater renovate and expand the facility, making it more attractive to production groups and cliental alike. “It’s been great with the county [who has] helped us with some things, and it’s a lot of people helping the majestic to find grant opportunities,” Betts says. As it stands right now, the Majestic is not a handicap friendly building. Much of the building was made before elevators were a common luxury. To maintain the building’s historic features inside, an external elevator next to the building could help make the building handicap accessible.
The Majestic is not a large theater, but the stage—with curtains fully drawn—seems almost larger than the audience it is meant to entertain. Those working in the Majestic are not blind to the challenges they face, but rather look forward to what their hard work will bring. The Majestic’s facelift could be a new beginning for Chillicothe.