AKRON, Ohio – Summit County Council is expected to consider giving $6.5 million in federal CARES Act money to Fairlawn to expand the city’s existing fiber-optic network to county and City of Akron municipal buildings that conduct criminal justice hearings.

The project seeks to connect buildings – especially courthouses and jails – to the FairlawnGig network, in an effort to improve high-speed internet for court proceedings held online due to the coronavirus pandemic, the county said Tuesday in a news release.

“COVID-19 has forced us to rethink how government operates and delivers services,” said Summit County Executive Ilene Shapiro. “As we begin to adjust to life with the virus, we have to consider how to safely and efficiently meet the needs of our community.”

Fairlawn City Council on Monday passed three pieces of legislation to accept CARES Act funding from Summit County for the project, and Shapiro is expected to introduce similar legislation to Summit County Council on Aug. 17. If approved, the project is expected to be completed by December.

The effort, dubbed the “Criminal Justice Integrated Technology Project,” would focus on improving the technological capabilities of the county’s criminal justice and public safety agencies, as well as Akron municipal buildings that hold criminal justice proceedings or house inmates.

Fairlawn Mayor William Roth Jr. said FairlawnGig started in 2016 as a way for the city to provide a municipal broadband utility for residents and businesses in Fairlawn and the Akron/Bath/Fairlawn joint economic development district, or JEDD. Now, Roth said he hopes the network can provide for people throughout the county.

“Summit County has found a great need to eliminate personal contact involved in court appearances with the idea of going to video court hearings,” Roth said. “Summit County has asked Fairlawn, in particular FairlawnGig, to help solve this problem and create a network that will allow for this type of remote appearance. We are honored that Summit County realizes the value that FairlawnGig will bring to a project like the Criminal Justice Integrated Technology Project.” 

Akron Mayor Dan Horrigan said the pandemic has demonstrated the need for governments to improve their technological infrastructure, so municipal services can continue in a safe and transparent way.

“This project will allow us to significantly improve our ability to operate during this emergency and anything we may face in the future,” Horrigan said.