Almost one-third of Ohio's rural residents lack a reliable home-broadband connection.
(TNS) — Composer Sean Beeson's clients are coastal, but he chooses to live in the serenity and quietude of Crestline, Ohio, which is about 60 miles north of Columbus, in Richland and Crawford counties.
Collaborating online and composing pieces for everything from documentaries to video games, commercials and amusement park rides, requires reliable, high-speed Internet, he said.
Without it, it can sometimes be impossible for Beeson to reach clients or it can take weeks for him to upload and download large files.
"There's a lot of great things about living in the country — the Internet is not one of them," he said. "For my business, it probably would be beneficial to move."
More than 1 million Ohioans have no access to fast, reliable broadband at home. Almost a third of Ohio's rural residents lack at-home broadband, compared with just 2 percent of urban dwellers.
That could change soon. The Ohio House approved a bill, 79-11, Wednesday aimed at addressing the state's digital divide.
The measure, which would establish the Ohio Broadband Development Grant Program, now will go to the Senate, where an identical bill is pending in committee.
Stu Johnson, a rural-connectivity advocate and executive director of broadband technology nonprofit group Connect Ohio, said he hopes the Senate can fit in a vote on the bill before it adjourns for the summer.
"Everybody's in favor of it, it's just a calendar issue," he said.
House Bill 378, sponsored by Reps. Ryan Smith, R-Bidwell, and Jack Cera, D-Bellaire, would create a program to provide $50 million each year in grants to private businesses, political subdivisions, nonprofit organizations and phone and Internet cooperatives.
It would expand coverage to about 14,000 Ohio households annually without raising taxes or using money from the state's General Revenue Fund. Instead, it would use existing funding from Ohio Third Frontier bond revenue, an economic-development initiative administered by the state.
Advocates say lack of affordable, reliable high-speed Internet has rippling effects on health care, local commerce and education in rural communities.
"People have to drive to the library or McDonald's to get on their Wi-Fi," said Cera. "I realize not everybody wants to be connected all the time, but our world has become so interconnected with the Internet that it's become basic infrastructure along with water, electric and everything else."
Beeson, the Crestline-based composer, said closing the digital gap would place rural Ohio on a level economic playing field, but it would require concerted effort.
"We treat the Internet like a sacred commodity around my house. When it goes out, we lose everything," he said. "There's no way rural areas will get high-speed broadband on their own. It just won't happen."
©2018 The Columbus Dispatch (Columbus, Ohio) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.