Ohio Senate bill aims to increase broadband across state

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COLUMBUS, Ohio – A bipartisan proposed bill in the Ohio Senate would make $100 million available to expand broadband into communities without high-speed internet access.

About 300,000 rural Ohio households and 88,500 businesses lack broadband – getting online through slower dial-up or satellite service. They visit public libraries and work on their mobile devices if they want higher speeds.

Thousands of residents in this isolated, hilly county face barriers in getting high-speed Internet service – something that many Ohioans in other parts of the state take for granted.

Sens. Joe Schiavoni, a Boardman Democrat who is also running for governor, and Cliff Hite, a Findlay Republican, said a lack of broadband – which comes by way of cable, fiber and wireless technologies – is an impediment that leaves students, job seekers and businesses behind.

Telecommunications companies hesitate to expand broadband into rural areas. It typically costs about $26,000 a mile to lay down fiber. If an area only has six houses – and studies show maybe four of the six will sign up for high-speed service once it arrives – it takes over 13 years for a company charging $50 a month to begin to see a return on the investment, said Stu Johnson, a vice president with Connect Ohio, a nonprofit with a mission to help Ohio advance and adopt high-speed internet.

The bill, which will be made public in a week or so, would subsidize the cost of internet infrastructure, Hite said.

The measure would create a $50 million-a-year, two-year grant program for communities, economic development organizations, nonprofits and other groups interested in improving internet in the area. The money would come from the Ohio Third Frontier program, a state borrowing program. Grants would be up to $5 million per group.

The groups can install the internet infrastructure and then find a telecommunications company to offer internet service. Or they can work with a telecommunications company to instal it the broadband infrastructure. Johnson of Connect Ohio said there would flexibility in the bill to help communities make decisions that would work best for them.

The lawmakers estimate 14,000 Ohio households could receive broadband under the plan. The state would be required, under the bill, to award grants based on a group’s financial solvency and if there are no private-sector plans to expand internet access to the area, among other factors.

Schiavoni said Rep. Ryan Smith, the influential chairman of the House Finance Committee, is working on a similar bill in the House with Rep. Jack Cera, a Bellaire Democrat.

“It’s time we just stop talking about making this a priority,” Schivoni said. “And now we’re actually going to put some funding behind it,” he said.
Originally published on Cleveland.com.