Ohio lawmakers creating potential for new ways to internet access

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COLUMBUS, Ohio (WKBN) – It’s 2017 and it seems like you can’t walk 10 feet down the sidewalk without seeing someone using their phone. Yet thousands of Ohioans still don’t have access to reliable internet in their homes and businesses.

The issue is in rural areas as well as urban, according to State Senators Joe Schiavoni (D – Boardman) and Cliff Hite (R – Findlay).

The lawmakers represent opposite ends of Ohio — and the political spectrum — but they are coming together to introduce a bi-partisan bill.

The Ohio Legislature is seeing more and more of these bills that carry dual sponsorship, this session.

Once it is introduced in the coming weeks, the bill will seek to create a grant program using $50 million annually from Ohio Third Frontier revenue bonds.

The grant money could be used to offset the cost of infrastructure creation or installation in areas of Ohio that until now have been passed over due to cost factors.

Unsurprisingly, it costs money to install the kind of infrastructure that broadband internet requires. Currently, the average cost is roughly $26,000 per mile according to Stu Johnson, the executive director of Connect Ohio.

As Johnson points out, if a miles worth of infrastructure would only open access up to six potential customers — of which maybe four actually get internet — the cost to return on investment isn’t where it needs to be to make the project worth it.

The purpose of the grants is to lower the cost and make the ROI more realistic.

Currently, an estimated 300,000 Ohio households and 88,500 businesses do not have access to broadband internet.

Some are stuck using dial-up or satellite.

And those without any internet are being left behind, according to Patrick Kerrigan, the director of the Oak Hill Collaborative in Youngstown.

“If we don’t prepare the people in those areas to meet the challenges of the new world that’s out there, then they’re just going to fall further and further and further behind,” he said. “The social and economic costs to all of us are going to be overwhelming.”

Senator Hite points out that so much of our daily lives are connected to the internet, especially when it comes to finding jobs or furthering education as a student. He says the lack of access is putting those people at a disadvantage.

Senator Schiavoni says their bill transcends political lines and cuts to the heart of how the statehouse is supposed to operate.

“We can take politics out of issues that should not be political,” said Schiavoni.

A companion bi-partisan bill is being planned for introduction into the State House of Representatives as well.