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Ohio Broadband Expansion Bill Passes House, Heads to Senate

House Bill 2 is aimed at reducing the financial barriers associated with extending high-speed Internet to rural parts of the state. Some 300,000 households currently have no high-speed options, according to the governor.

by Jeremy Pelzer, cleveland.com / February 19, 2021
Shutterstock/FlashMovie

(TNS) — Legislation to provide $210 million in state grants to expand high-speed Internet access around the state sailed through the Ohio House of Representatives on Thursday.

House Bill 2, which now heads to the Ohio Senate, aims to help parts of the state where it’s currently cost-prohibitive for telecommunications companies to extend high-speed (or, in many cases, any) Internet service. The bill would mostly help rural areas, proponents said, though they added that the grants would help Ohioans in every legislative district in the state.

Right now, nearly 1 million Ohioans living in 300,000 households currently have no high-speed Internet options at all, according to Gov. Mike DeWine’s administration, making it difficult to watch streaming video, work or learn remotely, or hold telehealth appointments. DeWine’s latest two-year budget plan would provide $250 million for broadband expansion.

The grants provided by HB2 would be awarded over three years by a five-member authority consisting of the director of the Ohio Development Services Agency, a member of the DeWine administration’s InnovateOhio initiative, and one appointee each from the governor, Ohio House and Ohio Senate.

State Rep. Rick Carfagna, a Delaware County Republican co-sponsoring HB2, said more than 50% of Wi-Fi usage at one Athens County public library takes place while 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.”

The legislation passed the House 88-5. The five “no” votes came from Republican state Reps. Tom Brinkman of suburban Cincinnati, Jennifer Gross of West Chester, Kris Jordan of Delaware County, Nino Vitale of Champaign County, and Paul Zeltwanger of Mason. None spoke on the House floor about why they opposed the bill.

No House Democrat voted against HB2.

“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 House Minority Leader Emilia Sykes in a statement. “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.”

The Ohio Senate passed a fairly similar version of the bill, Senate Bill 8, earlier this month. House Speaker Bob Cupp told reporters Thursday he would prefer the Senate pass the House bill instead of vice-versa, though he said he doesn’t recall whether he’s talked about it with Senate President Matt Huffman.

©2021 The Plain Dealer, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


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