Ohio House of Representatives approves $210M to give Internet access to underserved areas


Christin Hume

Photo via Unsplash

Jack Giba, Staff Reporter

The Ohio House of Representatives approved House Bill 2 on Feb. 19, allocating $210 million to provide broadband internet to underserved areas throughout the state, according to AP News.

The bill flew through the House due to bipartisan support, passing 88-5. Now, it heads to the Ohio Senate.

For Ohio, “state officials say an estimated 300,000 households and more than 1 million residents across Ohio lack high-speed internet,” reported AP News. The problem has become more urgent during the pandemic, especially in light of virtual education, remote work, and the need for internet to access social and support services, and even basic interactions with family and friends.

The bill includes $20 million annually for three fiscal years in addition to $150 million from the governor’s state budget proposal. It would build a grant program that incentivizes broadband providers to connect with hard-to-reach homes. Though the bill targets rural areas, proponents added that the grants would help Ohioans in areas that providers would typically consider cost-prohibitive and unsupportable.

At one Athens County public library, State Rep. Rick Carfagna, a Republican representing Delaware County, told cleveland.com that more than 50% of Wi-Fi usage takes place when the library is closed: “These are people literally sitting in their cars in the parking lot, after hours, so their kids can do their homework or people can do job searches or apply for work or do basic online banking — which I don’t recommend doing over a network like that.”

Carfagna sponsored the House proposal after advocating two other versions that failed previously, according to the Herald Star.

“Internet is not a luxury in 2021,” State Rep. Brian Stewart, Republican of Asheville, a sponsor of the bill, told the AP. “It’s a necessity.”

“Passing this long-held Democratic priority legislation to expand broadband access demonstrates that we can work together as a legislature to address the critical issues that impact Ohioans every day,” said Ohio House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes in a statement relayed on cleveland.com. “The (coronavirus) pandemic has exacerbated existing disparities between those who have reliable internet access and those who do not. This legislation will ensure all Ohioans, no matter where they live, are connected to the resources they need to get ahead.”