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Expanding Broadband: Why the Time to Act is Now

Stu 3 300x161 Stu Johnson, Executive Director of Connect Ohio, testified during the June 5, 2018 hearing.

Columbus, Ohio (June 6, 2018) – Expanding broadband in Ohio is so important to those living in the Buckeye State that more than 20 people submitted testimony on June 5, 2018 to the Senate Finance Committee in support of Senate Bill 225.

The bill seeks to create the Ohio Broadband Grant Program, which would provide funding opportunities for broadband expansion into unserved and underserved parts of the state.

“300,000 households in rural Ohio have no broadband access—households where children struggle to complete their homework and where parents can’t even send a simple e-mail due to lack of connectivity,” testified Stu Johnson, Executive Director, Connect Ohio, a subsidiary of Connected Nation. “An additional 2.1 million households are served only by a single broadband provider, meaning that more than half of all Ohio households either have no provider choice or no access at all.”

Senate Bill 225 would allocate $1 million annually for broadband research and analysis that would help Ohio maintain its broadband research capacity.

Robert Moore 300x171 Rob Moore, Policy Matters Ohio, testified during the June 5, 2018 hearing

“According to a report from Ohio State University’s Swank Program in Rural-Urban Policy, Connect Ohio was funded to provide research and analytic capability with federal stimulus dollars until 2014,” said Rob Moore, Policy Matters Ohio. “While the state stepped up to provide stopgap funding in 2015 and 2016, there has been no steady financial commitment to research and analysis of the state broadband system.”

To ensure the funds are invested effectively, the bill would require that mapping of broadband access would be done yearly by the state and at a more granular level than required by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) through its Form 477 reporting.

Right now, the FCC asks ISPs to report coverage at a census block level. This can lead to an inaccurate picture, especially when rural census blocks can be very large, a few larger as the state of Connecticut in some parts of the country, and even if only one household has coverage, the entire block is counted.

“These rural areas are where broadband availability is most lacking and needs to be more accurately defined, yet these are the areas where federal data on broadband availability is the least specific,” Eric Frederick, VP of Community Affairs for Connected Nation, told the committee members. “This is why reliable broadband data and mapping is crucial.”

“If rural and agricultural communities do not have reasonable access to broadband internet, Ohio risks the stagnation, if not decline, of this important part of Ohio’s economy,” Philip Caskey, CEO of Consolidated Cooperative, told the committee members. “It is the costs of dealing with that decline that seem to me to far overshadow the costs of Ohio partnering with private entities, like electric cooperatives, as proposed by SB225.”

During the hearing on SB225, educators, business owners, and advocates for families spoke to Ohio Senators about the impact broadband—and lack of broadband—can have on everything from business to education across the state.

“Availability of broadband service is critical to workforce development. Digital skills and access to broadband are required for accessing jobs and training,” said Ron Rees, Corporation for Ohio Appalachian Development. “Availability of broadband service is critical to education. Beginning in elementary school, adequate access to the internet is necessary to fully participate in learning.”

“Broadband is not just infrastructure; it is a vital utility critical to the well-being of everyone in the Buckeye State,” Nancy Richison, Global Institute for the Study of the Intelligent Community, said in her testimony.

Why This is the Time
More than 30 states have put in place legislation, introduced bills, or started research on policy opportunities in the areas of broadband and/or mapping. It’s now Ohio’s turn.

Frederick Testifies 300x167 Eric Frederick, VP of Community Affairs for Connected Nation, testified during the June 5, 2018 hearing

“This legislation is smart, good government—by including granular, validated broadband mapping, the broadband grant dollars indicated in this legislation will be meaningfully and purposefully spent in order to deploy access to the thousands of Ohioans who truly need it,” Frederick said.

Not only are legislators and state leaders looking at fixed broadband service in their states, but the FCC has received pushback on their recently-released map of areas eligible for Mobility Fund Phase II support. For example, in the last month, the FCC said West Virginia could challenge its decision to exclude some areas of the state from subsidies to expand mobile broadband.

Nationally, more than $4.5 billion will be made available through the Mobility Fund Phase II auction for carriers to offer service in rural areas deemed eligible by the FCC. Senator Joe Manchin (D-W. Va.) argued to the FCC that the eligible areas map released by the federal agency overstated mobile coverage in his state.

As a result, Senator Manchin filed a waiver requesting to challenge the FCC’s map which he believes incorrectly represents communities as having adequate mobile service. The granted waiver means Senator Manchin can now provide evidence from on-the-ground, outdoor speed testing on the lack of 4G LTE coverage through the Mobility Fund Phase II Challenge Process.

“The time to act on these things is now. Money is being spent now,” Johnson said. “If you were a funder, where would you invest? If you were a business, where would you invest? You'd invest in a state fighting for better data and the federal dollars available to reward those who expand broadband, like West Virginia.”

“We can’t wait. It is a vital lifeline to participate in society and an infrastructure that is as critical as our roads, bridges, water, and electricity.”

To read and review the language in Senate Bill 225, click here.