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Ohio Organizations Partner to Fill Internet Gaps

The state and local organizations have been pushing to close the Internet service gaps – ahead of a looming federal deadline – through partnerships with nonprofits capable of providing high-speed connections.

(TNS) — As state and federal deadlines loom, state and local organizations are looking to enlist the help of nonprofits who provide high-speed Internet connection to Southwest Ohio residents, or the Ohioans who need it.

In the last month, United Way of Greater Cincinnati has formed an alliance with 39 organizations across 16 counties in southwest Ohio providing residents with affordable, high-speed Internet.

But work remains to be done.

As healthcare, education, commerce, and a host of other elements of daily life become increasingly digital, communities that don't have high-speed Internet now face challenges. United Way is the agency spearheading the creation of accurate broadband maps for Southwest Ohio, and closing the "digital divide," between communities that have adequate Internet access and those that don't.

The digital divide disproportionately affects people in rural areas, older adults, people of color, households with low incomes, people with disabilities, veterans, and older adults, said Kristina Scott, Director of Public Policy for United Way of Cincinnati. Digital access is also a problem for those who have been incarcerated, and are reintegrating into society.

"We know there's more people doing this work. If we don't know what's out there, we don't know if we are serving the needs of Ohioans and those groups," Scott said. "These efforts help ensure every Ohioan has the technology, skills, and resources needed to fully engage in their communities, seek and often maintain employment, better connect with loved ones, learn, and access healthcare and other essential services."

The most recurring issues cited by residents include lack of digital skills, affordability and accessibility of Internet, and acquiring devices.

Broadband Internet has a minimum 25 megabits per second download speed, and 3 Mbps upload speed, but 100 mb/s download and 20 mb/s upload is is considered the standard by Broadband Ohio. Many people don't have broadband Internet available to their homes, and those that do often only have one or two providers to choose from.

What the Southwest Ohio cohort lacks at the moment is full and accurate knowledge of which communities need broadband cables in the ground and Wi-Fi signals in the air, to ensure all Ohio residents have access to a broadband signal.

United Way's Digital Inclusion Asset Map aims to fix this, by collecting input from Ohio residents about their access to high-speed Internet. Additionally, Ohio's Broadband Internet Access survey aims to identify these communities and individuals that don't have broadband access in their homes.

At stake is Ohio's cut of $42.5 billion in federal funding for broadband, through the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program. A second, smaller pot of $2.75 billion in digital skills and training funds from the Bipartisan Infrastructure Deal, is also available for states, Scott said.

The deadline for states to submit their plans to the federal government is June 30.

"An incomplete map means we risk this once-in-a-generation opportunity to equip our neighbors to work from home, use online banking and access their medical records," she said.

The agency is also holding pop-up events around Southwest Ohio in the coming weeks to talk with residents about what they want to see with broadband access in their communities.

"We really want people to participate in the process and make their voices heard," Scott said.

©2023 Springfield News-Sun, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.