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OPINION: Ohio Families, Business Will Benefit From History-Making Legislation

Johnson Stuart Glasses 671x1024 Headroom 197x300Columbus, Ohio (April 13, 2018) - If you believe that education, healthcare, economic development, agriculture, and public safety are important in Ohio then you are as excited as I am about House Bill 378 passing the Ohio House of Representatives by a vote of 85-11 on April 11, 2018.  All of those aspects of our lives are touched by our access to high-speed internet (broadband). But, right now, too many Ohioans don’t have broadband or have limited access to it.

This legislation isn’t just a quick fix or short-term solution to the problem of connectivity. It’s the largest state-sponsored broadband program in Ohio’s history and it directs up to $100 million from existing Ohio Third Frontier bond revenues to a two-year broadband grant program.

The bi-partisan authors of H.B. 378, Representative Ryan Smith and Representative Jack Cera, did this right. They looked at what’s worked in other states, and what hasn’t, and crafted legislation that can effectively expand broadband access across our state.

First, this legislation provides for more accurate broadband mapping—meaning we’ll truly be able to prioritize projects by need and leverage opportunities to improve access.

Second, this legislation opens the field for competition. The application process will be open to all qualified for-profit, non-profit, political subdivision, and co-op organizations that have the financial, technical, and managerial abilities to deploy broadband.

Third, this legislation will align resources to support broadband development. Nearly 20 other states have already enacted a broadband infrastructure funding program—some allocating more funding than Ohio’s proposed program and others allocating less. This bill will help ensure that Ohio remains nationally competitive at a time when talent and opportunities are increasingly mobile.

And, last but not least, by leveraging existing Third Frontier funds, the bill sponsors have identified a way for Ohioans to get connected without additional taxes or increased spending.

For years, as the head of Connect Ohio, a local subsidiary of Connected Nation, I’ve witnessed first-hand how damaging not having access can be to Ohio’s families, businesses, and communities. I’ve seen children who are frustrated because they can’t do their homework, parents who are struggling because they can’t access job applications or lack the necessary digital skills to get a job in the first place, senior citizens who are lonely because they can’t connect with loved ones, and businesses that are unable to grow because they don’t have access to a larger customer base.

I applaud all of the lawmakers who supported this important bill and hope that the Senate moves SB 225, the companion bill, through as quickly as possible so that we can provide all Ohioans with access to the opportunities so many of us already enjoy.

Everyone belongs in a Connected Nation.

Stu Johnson, Executive Director
Connect Ohio