As part of a largely rural community, I understand the challenges that still exist regarding dependable internet access, even in the 21st century. Technology has advanced almost exponentially since the creation of the original internet in the 1980s, but cities and towns across the state still struggle to develop modern infrastructure that supports a growing online network.
That’s why the Ohio House has recently taken several steps to overcome this obstacle. In January, we passed legislation that would establish the Residential Broadband Expansion (RBE) Program. Created under House Bill 281, the RBE program strives to expand access to broadband through a strengthened partnership between local governments and private businesses. The program targets the issue of “last-mile” connectivity, when it is too expensive for private wireless providers to extend their services to residences outside of the current infrastructure.
The RBE program would be funded through the Ohio Broadband Development Grant Fund, which would provide funds to local governments to pay off a broadband expansion project’s shortfall amount. The bulk of the project cost would still be taken care of by the broadband provider, but the program allows local government to step in and depend on the RBE grant to pick up a third of the remaining cost. The bill encourages a pooling of resources to overcome financial barriers that prevent broadband expansion.
We also passed House Bill 378, creating another grant program known as the Ohio Broadband Development Grant Program. The program would invest $100 million over the next two years through the proceeds of bonds supporting Ohio’s Third Frontier Program. Through this, private businesses, political subdivisions, and other eligible entities may apply for a grant specifically for a project that helps expand high-speed internet across the state.
Currently, nearly 300,000 rural households in Ohio do not have access to broadband internet. In the age of smart phones, cars, and more, this fact can be hard to believe. However, challenges still exist in our attempts to fully modernize as a state, and we must implement innovative solutions to remove limitations on educational opportunities, economic growth, and public safety resources that remain because of a lack of internet access. These two programs will help fund projects and urge collaboration between the state and private establishments.
The writer represents the 84th District in the Ohio House of Representatives.