Broadband expansion legislation passes House

By J.D. Davidson - The Center Square

COLUMBUS — As the need for high-speed internet access grew during the COVID-19 pandemic, so did the need to provide better connections throughout rural Ohio. Gov. Mike DeWine proposed improvements in his budget plan, and the General Assembly moved closer to taking access a step further.

The Ohio House passed the state’s first Residential Broadband Expansion program, providing grants to offset construction cost hurdles and help move forward with the expansion of high-speed internet and broadband services to underserved households in the state.

The bill passed the House, 91-5, on Thursday.

“This legislation is a critical step in the right direction to ensure reliable, high-speed internet services and broadband services are brought to the most unserved and underserved areas of Ohio,” said Rep. Rick Carfagna, R-Genoa Township. “It’s encouraging to see how quickly we can identify and solve problems when we all unite under one common effort.”

A nearly identical bill, Senate Bill 8, recently passed the Senate and is in the House Finance Committee. The only differences between the two bills is the amount of funding and an emergency clause in the House version that would make it law immediately upon signing by DeWine.

The House bill includes $210 million over a three-year period.

“It’s exciting to work so closely with our colleagues in the Senate to collectively work on a piece of legislation that is so widely supported,” Carfagna said.

House Bill 2 targets the last mile of connectivity to households where it’s cost-prohibitive for providers to extend service. It also contains industry reforms that lawmakers hope drive increased private investment of broadband infrastructure in unserved areas.

“Now more than ever, Ohioans are relying on broadband and internet services in their everyday lives as they work remotely and attend school virtually,” Rep. Brian Stewart, R-Ashville, said. “This is the first bill I sponsored as a state representative, and I was proud to joint-sponsor this legislation alongside my friend and colleague, Rick Carfagna.”

DeWine and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted have expressed strong support for the program.

“The Governor’s Executive Budget proposal makes an unprecedented investment into broadband expansion efforts,” Husted said. “Thanks to Representatives Carfagna and Stewart for leading the charge on this in the Ohio House so we can address the state’s digital divide from all sides, through dynamic partnerships and solutions, and so that unserved and underserved Ohio families can participate in today’s modern economy, modern education system and modern health care system.”

By J.D. Davidson

The Center Square