Last Wednesday the Ohio House of Representatives passed its version of the state’s 2022-2023 biennial operating budget, House Bill 110. It contains a clear message for urban communities of all sizes that hope for state help to reduce the barriers to home broadband faced by many of their citizens:
No help here. Go away.
The $74 billion in state spending authorized by the House includes $190 million for a proposed “Residential Broadband Expansion Grant Program” (RBEGP), which will subsidize internet service providers — but not municipal networks or nonprofits — to extend faster broadband infrastructure to areas where no provider now offers residential connections with speeds of at least 25 Mbps down and 3 Mbps up. That’s a 375% increase in funding for this proposed initiative, compared to last year’s House Bill 13 and this year’s House Bill 2.
None of these bills use the word “rural” to describe the RBEGP, but that’s what it is — Ohio’s long-awaited rural broadband investment program. Its basic eligibility threshold (no 25/3 Mbps service) prohibits investment in any area that already has mainstream cable modem service, which excludes pretty much all of the state’s urban neighborhoods, including smaller municipalities in non-metropolitan counties. Read more
Greenville is Ohio’s 17th worst connected midsized or large city, with 39% of its 5,800 households lacking wireline broadband connections, according to recent American Community Survey data.
To our surprise (and a lot of other people’s), Ohio’s 133rd General Assembly never did get around to passing House Bill 13, the “Ohio broadband bill”, during its December lame duck sessions. So that bill is dead, and it’s back to square one for proponents of rural broadband subsidies and a state broadband office in Ohio state government.
It’s likely that the new General Assembly will take up the now-popular topic of the state’s “broadband gap” pretty quickly. When they do, here’s a new CYC factsheet they should take very seriously:
It shows fifty of Ohio’s midsized and large cities — defined as having 5,000 or more households –along with the numbers and percentage of those households lacking cable, DSL or fiber optic Internet service at any speed, according to the U.S. Census’ most recent American Community Survey. Read more
Spectrum cable and AT&T fiber share a pole in Cleveland, where 47% of households have neither.
Ohio’s lame-duck General Assembly will soon give final approval to Amended House Bill 13, their long-awaited $50 million rural broadband bill. And the FCC has just announced $170 million in winning bids for Ohio broadband investments through its “Rural Development Opportunity Fund”. All $220 million is earmarked to build new high-speed Internet infrastructure for unserved rural areas of the state.
But newly released data from the U.S. Census shows that Ohio’s broadband divide (defined as the lack of fast home Internet service needed for school, work, healthcare, personal finances, family and community connections) is a serious issue for urban as well as rural communities.
In fact, most of the state’s households who lack good high-speed Internet connections are in “urban Ohio”, not “rural Ohio”.