Nearly a dozen representatives from Ohio universities and economic groups voiced their support for House Bill 378 through written and oral testimony submitted to the Ohio House Finance Committee.
Among those sharing the reasons this bill matters, Connect Ohio’s Executive Director Stuart Johnson (pictured right).
“Broadband is a vital lifeline to participate in society and an infrastructure that is quickly becoming just as critical as our roads, bridges, water and electricity,” Johnson told committee members during his Dec. 12 testimony. “Yet, 300,000 households in rural Ohio have no broadband access.”
House Bill 378 is a bipartisan effort, introduced by state Rep. Ryan Smith (R-Bidwell) and stat Rep. Jack Cera (D-Bellaire). If the bill passes, it would create a $50 million-per-year grant program using existing funding from Ohio Third Frontier bond revenues.
The funds would be used to construct broadband infrastructure in areas of Ohio unserved by high-speed internet.
“This bill is absolutely critical to Ohio’s future. You can look every sector of society and there is not one area that’s not impacted by access to broadband,” Johnson testified. “When you expand broadband, you expand the number of people who can be helped because they then have access to health care resources, government services, education, economic opportunities and more.”
The Impact on Health Care in Ohio
State Rep. Rick Perales (R-Beavercreek) has long supported efforts to expand telemedicine into more areas of Ohio, especially in rural regions, and has introduced legislation in the past to increase access.
“What I want to know is if House Bill 378 might help these families who do not have access? Will it address the need to expand telehealth and telemedicine?” Rep. Perales asked.
“If you believe that access to health care, education and other resources could improve health issues — then this is an answer,” Johnson said. “At the same time, some rural health care facilities are lacking access and need it to serve patients. This bill will help address that need.”
Richard Hodges (pictured left), a visiting professor at Ohio University’s College of Health Sciences and Professions, told the committee that there are a lot of reasons for poor health, but underlying all of the health-related variables in Appalachia is a lack of access to care.
“It is not unusual for residents of Appalachia to travel more than an hour and a half for common specialty health care needs,” said.
As part of his work, Professor Hodges tracks health trends throughout Appalachia and he told the committee that health disparities contribute to lower life-span expectancies, higher incidence of disease and higher health care costs.
He formerly served as a representative in Ohio and was the former director of the Ohio Department of Health.
“Technology offers solutions to the health care access problems facing Appalachia,” he said. “But the lack of broadband service is a considerable barrier to extending the benefits of technology to people in that area.”
Accessing a Global Economy, Educational Opportunities
Members of the committee also were focused on the needs of local businesses and Ohio’s universities, including job training. State Rep. John Patterson (D-Jefferson) wanted a direct answer to the question, “If we don’t work on expanding broadband now, how would it impact our businesses and residents?”
“The cost of doing nothing means we’ll see job loss and societal problems grow because people, especially in rural areas, will have little to no opportunity,” Johnson said. “The opportunity for everyone to compete in a global marketplace is happening today and 300,000 Ohioans are not able to compete in that because of a lack of connectivity.”
The committee members also heard from Dr. Betty Young of Hocking College (pictured right), who addressed how the lack of broadband access hurts students and faculty members. She shared the difficulty many Ohio schools are facing when they do not have reliable internet.
“Hocking College is designing curriculum using free and open-source materials to reduce the cost of textbooks and ultimately the total cost of education. We cannot deliver this content without the connectivity,” she said. “Unfortunately, some of our students and our faculty are still living in the dial-up age and this material will simply not run on their equipment.
“We must move the 1 in 12 Ohioans from technology isolation of dial-up or no access at all to high-speed connectivity needed to level the playing field educationally and economically.”
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