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Ohio County Pushes Back Against State Muni Broadband Ban

Summit County, Ohio, leaders are pushing back against a recently proposed amendment from the Ohio Senate that would eliminate existing and future municipal broadband networks, officials said.

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(TNS) — Summit County, Ohio, leaders are pushing back against an amendment from the Ohio Senate that would eliminate existing and future municipal broadband networks, officials said.

Summit County Executive Ilene Shapiro and Mayor David Kline of Tallmadge are some of the most notable leaders to oppose the amendment, which is being discussed within the Budget Conference Committee; the committee consists of four Ohio House members and four Senate members, said Ernie Staten, Fairlawn director of public service.

Staten said a final budget vote could happen Friday, but it could be a bit later. The state’s budget bill must be signed by Gov. Mike DeWine by June 30 because Ohio’s fiscal year begins July 1. DeWine could use a line-item veto if the final version of the bill has language that would eliminate municipal broadband networks. A DeWine spokesman said it is too early to comment on whether DeWine will decide to do a line-item veto.

Along with the municipal broadband amendment, the Senate also is proposing to remove $190 million in state funding to expand high-speed internet access to underserved areas. DeWine said at a news conference Tuesday that he believes “adequate money” will be in the bill.

If the amendment to remove municipal broadband networks remains, cities like Fairlawn and Medina, which have their own networks, would no longer be able to use them if a private sector company already does business in the area. Cities also would not be allowed to accept federal dollars to start a municipal broadband program.

U.S. Sen. Rob Portman, a Republican, recently helped introduce bipartisan legislation that would provide $40 billion in flexible funding to states and tribal governments, U.S. territories and Washington D.C., for widening access to high-speed internet.

“It’s not a coincidence that at the same time Summit County, Franklin County and other areas in Ohio were drafting plans to expand municipal broadband with federal funding, the Ohio Legislature capitulated to private sector lobbyists to ban such expansion,” Staten said in a news release.

“Municipalities have a duty to serve our residents and businesses, including ensuring an essential service like adequate broadband connectivity is available. We need to be able to fill the gap when the private sector does not deem it profitable enough to warrant investment.”

Fairlawn currently uses the service provider FairlawnGig, and Summit County had plans to expand service to the entire county, Shapiro said in the release.

“The feedback from our communities and our partners was overwhelming—this is what people and businesses need.” Shapiro said. “The Senate omnibus amendment seeks to prohibit the exceptional growth our vision would achieve. High speed, high quality connectivity puts Summit County in a far better position to attract national and global businesses, high paid professionals, and growing families.”

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