COLUMBUS (WCMH) — The Ohio House of Representatives on Thursday passed House Bill 13, a priority piece of legislation sponsored by State Representatives Rick Carfagna (R-Genoa Twp.) and Michael O’Brien (D-Warren) that helps expand broadband across Ohio.

Nearly one million Ohioans lack a reliable internet connection and about 300,000 households have no broadband options whatsoever. House Bill 13 will create Ohio’s first ever Residential Broadband Expansion Program. The program will provide grants to offset construction cost hurdles and help facilitate the expansion of high-speed internet and all broadband services to unserved householders across Ohio.

“The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has underscored how critically important it is for Ohioans to have access to reliable high-speed internet,” said Carfagna. “As so many of our economic, educational, and social activities have shifted to virtual platforms, the divide between those who have access to the internet and those who do not has been exacerbated. We believe that the enhancements made to House Bill 13 represent a meaningful step toward closing that gap.”

The grant program will be funded with $20 million for the remainder of the state’s budget biennium. Other regulatory changes to assist in reducing barriers to broadband expansion are included in the legislation.

“This legislation stems from Representative Carfagna’s and my combined decades of local government experience at the city, township and county levels, dealing firsthand with constituents struggling to access broadband and exploring options to get service extended to their households,” Representative O’Brien said during the floor debate. “Substitute House Bill 13 would target this problem of last mile connectivity to residences where it remains cost-prohibitive for private providers to extend their plant.”

For more than a year, Carfagna and O’Brien worked closely with Speaker Larry Householder and Governor Mike DeWine to significantly improve and finalize the bill. The program established under House Bill 13 fulfills a key goal under the Ohio Broadband Strategy, a report issued December 2019 by the Governor and Office of InnovateOhio, led by Lt. Governor Jon Husted, with the main goal to improve connectivity throughout Ohio.

“Broadband access is the key to help ensure that all Ohioans can succeed in the digital age,” Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine said upon the bill’s passage. “Our administration is pleased to be working with Reps. Carfagna and O’Brien on this important legislation.”

The bill passed with a vote of 81-8 and will await action in the Ohio Senate.