Cordray broadband program — support for local broadband strategies, skills training

The Democratic candidate for Ohio Governor, Richard Cordray, released his long-awaited Infrastructure Plan last week, with a commitment to raise billions of dollars in new bond funding (but not taxes) for a variety of infrastructure investments.

It includes a section called “Expanding Access to Broadband”, reprinted here in its entirety. That section hasn’t gotten much attention from the media.  It deserves more.

Of course Cordray’s plan starts with a focus on increasing fast Internet access for Ohio’s unserved rural communities: “One-third of Ohio’s rural households lack access to modern digital tools because of where they live, compounding inequities in school funding and other public services.” But it goes on to add: “Low-income residents in Ohio’s largest cities also face obstacles. Across the state, one million Ohioans have access to only one internet provider, leaving them at the mercy of broadband companies that can charge higher prices and provide unreliable service for too many people.”

So what would a Cordray Administration do about it?  The plan has three bullet points, but they really include four proposals:

  • Create a single “Office of Connectivity” to coordinate Ohio’s broadband policy.
  • Support local government and community initiatives. “…The Cordray-Sutton administration will work with local governments to get them the flexibility and tools they need to bring broadband to every corner of the state and solve the issue of ‘last-mile” access… and will help localities directly in their efforts to expand broadband access, offering targeted incentives to those towns and cities working to provide high-speed internet for their citizens.”
  • Encourage commercial ISPs to use available Federal support (“the Connect America Fund”) to improve rural access.
  • Support digital skills training with “existing dollars”. “We will restore local government dollars, including those used to support workforce training and library training programs, to ensure everyone has the skills to take advantages of the 21st century economy.”

A new lead agency for Ohio’s broadband access and adoption policies; state investment and support for local public and community network initiatives; and a commitment to find financial resources for community digital skills training. For digital inclusion advocates, those are pretty significant steps in the right direction by Cordray and Sutton.

As far as we know, their Republican opponents, Mike Dewine and John Husted, have been silent so far on broadband and digital equity issues. Let’s hope we hear from them soon.

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