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Broadband expansion bringing rural Ohio up to speed

COLUMBUS (WCMH) - Right now more than a million Ohioans have no access to fast and reliable internet at home. It is one of the top concerns for rural families according to lawmakers.

New legislation aims to fix that problem using tax dollars and while many agree in our modern world it is a necessity to have internet access, not everyone thinks the government should be tasked with bringing the entire state online.

A bill at the Ohio Statehouse would create the Ohio Broadband Development Grant Program. It would provide $100 million dollars over two years in grants to businesses, non-profits, ad internet co-ops that would install fiber and bring broadband internet to rural residents.

Ryan Boles and wife knew they wanted to raise their new baby Calvin in the country,

“You’ve got space to grow,” Said Boles, but what they did not know when they moved to rural Delaware County in 2017, was how hard it would be to get fast, reliable internet,

“Or even to get access to internet, out here,” Boles added. The Boles family is currently working with a local co-op to get broadband installed in his area.

The Boles family are just one of about a million Ohio residents struggling to get solid internet service.

“It’s probably the most important issue facing rural Ohio right now,” Said Representative Jack Cera (D-Bellaire). Rep. Cera represents district 96 in rural eastern Ohio, where according to him, families have been waiting years for internet expansion.

“We keep falling further behind as the technology grows,” Cera said. Cera added that school children need increasing access to internet services for their education, something not all of them have at home, and this puts them at a disadvantage.

Rep. Cera and Representative Ryan Smith (R-Bidwell) are behind the Ohio Broadband Development Grant Program.  According to Cera, the bill will not raise taxes and uses funds from the Ohio Third Frontier Bond Revenue, an already existing economic development initiative,

“We are hoping it is a catalyst for the private sector,” Cera added.

But using tax dollars to pay for internet expansion is something critics say the private sector should be handling.

“These things should be, if they are built appropriately, paid for by subscribers,” Said Greg Lawson with the Buckeye Institute, which tracks government spending. Lawson said it should be internet providers who are paying for expansion to rural customers, not taxpayers,

“It may not always be obvious to taxpayers that they are being forced to pay for this, but they are,” Lawson said.

While how to pay for it is still being debated, bringing broadband internet to rural Ohio is something public policy experts believe will benefit the entire state.

“Why should an urban resident pay for rural broadband is a great question,” said Dr. Mark Partridge, a rural and urban policy expert at Ohio State University.

A 2018 study at OSU found there is a strong economic benefit for Ohio to invest in expanding broadband services,

“Even with conservative numbers, the benefits would be about $2 billion dollars to Ohio,” Dr. Partridge said.

The report advises the state to invest in public-private partnerships to incite growth and help cover costs as well as a number of other cost-saving measures.

The bill overwhelming passed the House earlier this year, it is currently in the Senate Finance committee. With bipartisan support, Representative Cera hopes to get the bill turned into law, and the process of bringing rural Ohio up to speed, as soon as possible.


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