By Jimmy Flint
A public-private partnership in Seneca County has led to the completion of a fiber network project that creates a “win-win situation” for county employees, safety services personnel and residents.
In March 2018, the Seneca County Board of Commissioners signed a 20-year, $719,000 lease agreement with local company, Bascom Communications, to upgrade the county’s internet lines from T1 (telephone-based) lines to fiber technology. Through the agreement, the county is leasing several strands of underground fiber within a fiber ring from the company.
The lease is paid for via an advance from the General Fund, which is paid back over time by the 9-1-1 fund, which is contributed to by all cell phone bills in the county. The 9-1-1 fund brings in about $115,000 annually.
The county’s fiber connects all dispatch centers in the county, including the Tiffin and Fostoria Police departments, the Seneca County Sheriff’s Office and the emergency operations center at the Public Safety Building. It also connects many county offices within a private network.
Seneca County Commissioner Shayne Thomas said the major priority of the project was to improve the reliability and quality of emergency communications, while also securing data and information handled by county offices.
Not only will the upgraded network improve emergency communications and interconnect county offices with lightning-fast connection speeds, but the project also will provide benefits to many county residents. Since the county doesn’t own all the strands within the ring, this will allow Bascom to offer enhanced services to customers near the fiber.
On May 22, several of the partners who helped make the project happen gathered for a “switch-flipping ceremony” to celebrate the project. LuAnne Cooke, a liaison from Lt. Gov. Jon Husted’s office, attended the event and read a proclamation from the governor’s office that congratulated the county and the community.
Thomas said the county’s investment in the new network and a climate-controlled, state-of-the-art server room in the Seneca County Justice Center, proves that the county is forward-thinking.
“Servers, monitors, software and fiber work dutifully unseen,” he said. “A climate-controlled server room with a generator back up doesn’t glow like the lights on the tower, but it does illuminate the essential work of the county. With this investment, our county does look forward to the future, not just as an inclusive, forward-leaning community, but one that has cutting-edge technology.”
Cooke said the county’s foresight will pay off.
“Communities that see the need and step up and get this done now instead of later are going to be miles ahead,” she said.
Nate Brickner, the general manager of Bascom Communications, thanked all the community partners involved with the project, including the county commissioners, the city of Tiffin, the city of Fostoria, Buckeye IT, all the safety service departments in the county and Ken Myers Construction, of Green Springs.
Brickner also thanked Dan Stahl, the retired former Seneca County Emergency Management Agency Director who helped lay the groundwork for the project.
“Dan came to us years ago,” Brickner said, adding that Stahl identified the chance for a public-private partnership that could benefit both the county and the company.
Seneca County Emergency Services Director Ken Majors also recognized Stahl for his efforts in moving toward an improved, fiber-based network.
“Dan Stahl truly was a visionary on this,” he said. “He knew we had to do this a long time ago.”
Brickner said the project is an example for other communities to follow.
“We realized early on that it didn’t make sense to reinvent the wheel,” he said. “Being a resident and a taxpayer, we decided we needed to figure out a true win-win for everyone. This public-private partnership formed over many hours, days, months and years to become the blueprint for others in Ohio, as they are already asking us how to emulate it.”
Buckeye IT Owner Jake Schaaf, who handles IT for the county and was a leader on this project, said he had been talking with the county about doing something like this for almost 10 years.
“From a geek’s perspective, this is really, really cool because we have a 10-gig fiber network in the ground,” he said, before further explaining. “The old way was a bunch of silos interconnected with one-way streets. Think of this new way as the new and improved 270 around Columbus, but without the orange barrels. It’s like four lanes going each way, super fast.”
Schaaf said information and data will travel faster and will be more secure.
“Theoretically, the speeds that we can travel on this new network are limitless. We should be good for the next several decades,” he said. “Not all counties this small can have this kind of technology.”
Commissioner Holly Stacy the project was only possible because of the hard work and dedication of many.
“I was on the IT Committee five years ago, and I remember thinking, ‘is this something that can happen before we retire?’” she said.
Tiffin Police Department Chief Fred Stevens said the new network is already paying off for safety service personnel.
“It makes us more efficient, being able to communicate as efficiently as we can. Kudos to the community, it just shows that we are always thinking forward,” he said.
“This is a critical piece of infrastructure for our county,” he said. “This will help keep us safer for a long time.”