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Broadband Heros

Cora Marshall & Eric Skomra

Friday April 13, 2012

Cora Marshall is a life-long resident of Washington County and has served the county as Commissioner since January 2009. Cora and her husband Gary own and operate Marshall Real Estate, Inc. and raise beef cattle on their farm near the Village of Germantown.


As the first realtor in Marietta to use computers in her business and one of the first business owners in the area to use mobile phones, Commissioner Marshall quickly saw the potential for wireless communications and the limitations when she would venture beyond the wireless signal. As her business dealing increasingly relied on computer usage, she turned to satellite broadband services as it was the only option beyond dial-up. Commissioner Marshall was deeply disappointed in the speed, download limitations, and cost of the service and knew there had to be a better way.


Early in her tenure as Commissioner, Cora visited many counties around Ohio to see what approaches were being taken to solve the critical infrastructure issues plaguing the Appalachian counties. While visiting Coshocton County, a rural county similar in many respects to Washington, she saw how residents were benefiting in their jobs, education, and healthcare through increased access to broadband. Cora investigated the approach used by Coshocton to supply wireless broadband and decided Washington County could do it, as well.


Commissioner Marshall found the key to a successful increase in broadband access was to claim the high ground and secure access to tall towers in and around the county. She successfully pursued an agreement with the State of Ohio enabling Washington County to sublease access to the Multi-Agency Radio Communication System (MARCS) towers in and around the county. Due to the work performed by the Washington County Sheriff’s Office during the construction of the towers and Cora’s negotiation skills, the opportunity to place equipment on the MARCS towers was obtained at rare low monthly rates.


Eric Skomra has been IT director for Washington County since 2010. He has been actively pursuing broadband expansion in southeastern Ohio since 2001 when he began his public service career as IT director for the City of Marietta.


Eric has served as a representative for the Appalachian Region Broadband Planning Program titled Technology Infrastructure Group (TIG) and for the Governor’s Office of Appalachia’s broadband awareness and expansion program.


In 2003, Eric helped implement Marietta’s Wide Area Network and witnessed the potential for expanding broadband access using Wireless Technology. He implemented a wifi surveillance and Internet access system during Marietta’s 2005 Sternwheel Festival, which incorporated wireless surveillance cameras, multiple mobile camera monitoring devices, and a centralized server-based camera recording and monitoring system. More than 30 law enforcement officials and first responders experienced the use of wireless law enforcement and public safety systems during the festival.


Eric used the success at the Sternwheel project to promote the expansion of broadband with a City Wide mesh system proposal and a County Wide wireless deployment proposal leveraging the county MARCS tower infrastructure, giving multiple presentations to local officials, business owners, and the Governor’s Office of Appalachia. The key stumbling block to expansion was the lack of fiber backhaul and Internet access.


Eric went on to support Memorial Health System’s 37 clinic locations in 4 counties across 2 states, where he also served on the Southern Ohio Healthcare Network Board of Directors. Eric gained the health system’s support and participation in the fiber network expansion efforts that culminated in Horizon Telecom’s Connecting Appalachia initiative, creating a fiber backhaul solution needed for southeastern Ohio expansion projects.


Since serving as IT director for Washington County, Eric has been working closely with Commissioner Cora Marshall to fulfill her vision of a County Wide broadband expansion leveraging the MARCS towers. In addition to Commissioner Marshall’s MARCS tower agreements, Eric secured tower access agreements with 6 of the major water providers throughout Washington County.


Commissioner Cora Marshall and Eric Skomra worked diligently on producing a Wireless Internet Service Provider (WISP) Request for Proposal (RFP) in an attempt to entice a broadband provider to expand availability into the county. The RFP was released this past May. Marshall and Skomra are currently working with an interested WISP to identify county residents requesting Internet service and to raise awareness of the initiative through radio and TV interviews, newspaper articles, and a word-of-mouth campaign. Marshall and Skomra are actively working to leverage all potential funding avenues to enable deployment of wireless Internet service to the citizens of Washington County.