COO Tom Simpson on the “Connect Our Students” program and Greater Cincinnati fiber build
September 4, 2020
One of the most vicious outcomes of the COVID-19 pandemic is a lack of access to education for our children. The understandable decision by many schools, including Cincinnati Public Schools, to begin this school year in a remote learning environment has highlighted the importance of dependable Internet connectivity. As a result, remote learning is throwing the lack of digital equity in our region – and indeed throughout the United States – into sharp relief.
As the Chief Operating Officer of Cincinnati Bell Inc., it is my responsibility to help resolve existing digital inequities in this community. Our 2,000 local employees feel the same way. It’s important for the community to hear directly from me regarding how we are addressing digital inequities – particularly when it comes to educating our children – in both the short term and the long term.
Most immediately, Cincinnati Bell has partnered with several community organizations to provide free Internet to qualifying students at Cincinnati Public Schools, several Northern Kentucky schools, and Catholic Inner City Schools. To date the program, called “Connect Our Students,” has delivered Internet to 3,700 families. Hundreds more are signing up every day. We ask the public to consider supporting this program; information is available via this link.
This is an important start, but is not a long-term solution. And, at times, the program has highlighted a roadblock to achieving true digital equity. I’ve received several e-mails in recent weeks from concerned parents and educators noting that not every neighborhood in Greater Cincinnati has access to Cincinnati Bell’s fiber-based Internet.
The variance is based on whether we are delivering the Internet over a fiber or copper connection. For those of you who are not aware, Internet over fiber delivers optimum speeds regardless of how many devices are connected in a home or business. Since 2010, Cincinnati Bell has invested more than $1 billion into building a fiber network across Greater Cincinnati that replaces our legacy copper network.
Today, we offer giga-bit speeds to nearly 500,000 addresses, more than 60% of Greater Cincinnati. However, there are still addresses where we deliver Internet only over a copper network, which leads to slow Internet speeds. When people tell me this is not acceptable, I agree. One benefit of our pending acquisition by Macquarie Infrastructure and Real Assets (“MIRA”), which was announced in March 2020, is that we will have increased access to funding that will allow us to expand our fiber network at an accelerated pace. This acquisition is tremendous news for our company and our community.
I also regularly hear the following: Cincinnati Bell only provides fiber in wealthy neighborhoods. While people may disagree on the definition of “wealthy,” this is not an accurate statement. We have been investing in fiber throughout the region for 10 years, reaching 60% of the addresses with a giga-bit enabled product. We would have ultimately preferred to build faster over this period of time. However, as a publically traded company, Wall Street expectations required we scale back investment. Once the acquisition by MIRA is finalized and we become a private company, our plans would be to again aggressively build fiber, almost completely blanketing Greater Cincinnati, and then leverage wireless solutions to bring high-speed Internet to the areas remaining under-served.
All of this, of course, does not help students today who need Internet access. So back to where I started. Every day, a team of Cincinnati Bell employees – in coordination with schools and our community partners – meets to review the “Connect Our Students” program. We identify and eliminate immediate roadblocks, and we initiate the necessary conversations to address longer-term needs. I’m pleased with our progress. I also understand there’s a long way to go.
I am so appreciative of the school administrators, teachers, parents, and students who are navigating this challenging environment. Thank you. Cincinnati Bell will be behind you, beside you, and – when necessary – in front of you every step of the way.
Chief Operating Officer
Cincinnati Bell Inc.