COLUMBUS — Ohio officials are moving forward with a plan aimed at improving access to high-speed internet across the state, a push that could see renewed interest in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.

The new BroadbandOhio office will implement the “Ohio Broadband Strategy,” which the state released in 2019. The plan, in part, calls for the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT) to allow more access to state-owned rights of way to construct internet infrastructure.

While state officials say the “Ohio Broadband Strategy” will help increase economic growth in the state, they also hope it will lead to additional funding from the federal government.

“The BroadbandOhio Office is operating out of the state’s Development Services Agency (DSA), in coordination with InnovateOhio and other state agencies, with the goal of using as many existing resources available, including leveraging current state and federal programs,” Carolyn Cypret, press secretary for Lt. Gov. Jon Husted, said in an email.

Earlier this year, Ohio officials announced they are rolling out a new artificial intelligence (AI) tool aimed at reforming Ohio’s regulatory landscape. The state is spending up to $1.2 million on the project launched by the Common Sense Initiative (CSI) in partnership with InnovateOhio. The “Ohio Broadband Strategy” is using the AI tool to improve regulations tied to expanding services.

In a similar initiative, the state is launching a telehealth pilot project to connect K-12 students in southeast Ohio’s Switzerland School District with mental health counselors. In a news release, Switzerland School Superintendent Rob Caldwell said students and their families must sometimes “travel hours away to seek treatment” due to “recent closures of mental health providers in our area.”

“There is no specific appropriation for the Ohio Broadband Strategy as the strategy was completed after the current biennial budget proposal was passed and signed,” Cypret said. “They will manage projects within existing appropriations, including the recently-announced Telehealth Pilot Project, which is funded from existing Medicaid appropriations.”

In a news release, Gov. Mike DeWine said: “There are more than 300,000 households in Ohio without broadband access.” Establishing the office is “a first step” to increasing access.

By Todd DeFeo

The Center Square