Original Article Source: The Post Athens

Ohio legislators seek to increase internet access with new bill

More Articles

About 2.5 million Ohioans currently lack broadband access in their homes, but recently-introduced bipartisan legislation seeks to change that.

The legislation, House Bill 378 and Senate Bill 199, will allow up to $50 million in grants per year for businesses, co-ops, non-profits or political subdivisions to “build broadband infrastructure in unserved and underserved areas,” a press release by the Ohio Senate stated.

“This legislation is incredibly important to Ohio’s future,” Sen. Joe Schiavoni, D-Youngstown, who introduced the senate version of the bill with Sen. Cliff Hite, R-Findlay, said in the press release. “Without access to broadband internet service, businesses can’t reach their customers, students can’t do their homework and workers have difficulty searching for jobs.”

The maximum any single organization could receive from the grants is $5 million, and the grants could not cover more than half of a project’s cost, according to the press release.

All of the yearly $50 million would come from preexisting money in Ohio’s Third Frontier fund, which was set up to improve the state’s economy by funding technology startups.

“We are woefully behind in expanding broadband access in the State of Ohio, including my district,” Hite said. “This legislation is crucial for improving a situation that will continue to be a problem for many of my constituents if something is not done.”

Stu Johnson, executive director of Connect Ohio, an organization that advocates for increased broadband access, said legislators sometimes overlook underserved areas and make decisions that assume everyone has access to broadband.

“We’ve got to be careful when we make decisions and policy with this assumption that everybody is online, because they’re not,” Johnson said. “The introduction of this bill will get that to a state level conversation.”

Johnson said companies often don’t have the incentive to increase broadband access in southeast Ohio because profits and federal grants alone aren’t enough, according to a previous Post report.

“This fund will allow that last dollar,” Johnson said. “The private companies and federal government, by themselves, cannot make it work.”

According to the press release from the Ohio senate, 300,000 rural households and 88,500 Ohio businesses do not have broadband access. Connect Ohio estimates that about 2.5 million Ohioians do not have access to broadband.

“Whether it is for job applications, conducting government business, shopping, accessing important medical and financial information, young people utilizing the web for their education, or keeping in touch with family, the internet has become a vital part of our everyday way of life,” Rep. Jack Cera, D- Bellaire, who introduced the house version of the bill with Rep. Ryan Smith, R-Bidwell, said. “This bill helps direct more resources for broadband service, especially in rural areas. Many parts of Ohio need broadband services and I hope passage of this bill will assist with that effort.”

This article originally appeared on the Post Athens.