Ohio is a step closer to creating a program to help more Ohioans get online.
In Ohio, 1 million people lack reliable internet connection, and 300,000 households have no internet options. To Delaware County area Representative Rick Carfagna, that's unacceptable. He called high-speed internet "the great social equalizer of our time," and said it's become crucial for accessing telemedicine, distance learning and job flexibility.
"It has yielded a wide variety of economic, cultural, educational and social resources to our communities," Carfagna said. "And the internet instantaneously brings knowledge, marketplaces and people together across oceans. The disparities that we have in this state were really laid bare during this pandemic."
Carfagna is a co-sponsor of House Bill 13. It would create the Residential Broadband Expansion program, with grants for local communities to expand high-speed internet infrastructure in underserved areas. The House has passed the bill, and Carfagna said he's hopeful it will be prioritized by the Senate.
AARP Ohio worked with lawmakers on the legislation. And the organization's Associate State Director of Advocacy Jason Smith said he's grateful they removed a provision that would have required a match from local governments to participate in the program.
"We were very concerned that would act as a disincentive for the communities who need the support the most from participating in the program," Smith said. "Because those tend to be less affluent, rural communities who may not have the local tax base in order to participate in the programs."
With prior work experience in the cable industry and then as a township trustee, Carfagna said he's seen firsthand the difficulties communities face in expanding infrastructure. And in crafting HB 13, he said it was important to ensure all industries - cable, phone, wireless and satellite — were included.
"Some of the more extreme rural areas of the state, it might make sense to construct a tower and to have a fixed wireless solution to reach those people," he said. "And then, there's other parts of the state where maybe you have a telephone line already in place, and it's not going to be too difficult to just run an extension off that line to pick up 100 or 200 houses."
Gov. Mike DeWine helped secure $20 million for the program over the next year.