With the state budget now in conference committee, the Ohio Senate is trying to eliminate the Governor’s $190 million broadband expansion package from the bill. Senate president Matt Huffman also has slipped in an amendment that would make it illegal for local governments to install broadband networks, either on their own or in partnership with a private company.
All four of Appalachian Ohio’s local development districts – Buckeye Hills Regional Council, Ohio Mid-Eastern Governments Association, Ohio Valley Regional Development Commission, and Eastgate Regional Council of Governments – have asked the Senate to restore the $190 million and remove the amendment.
“Our region needs more broadband options, not fewer,” said Misty Crosby, Executive Director of Buckeye Hills Regional Council. “The $20 million included with House Bill 2 is a good start, but it doesn’t come close to addressing the digital divide in our state.” BroadbandOhio, the state agency in charge of expanding access, noted that it already has received more than $250 million worth of project proposals to bring high speed internet to Ohioans who currently do not have service. At the same time, neighboring states have proposed significant investments, including Illinois ($450 million), Indiana ($250 million), Michigan ($150 million), and Wisconsin ($300 million). If Ohio chooses not to fund broadband expansion, those states will have a distinct competitive advantage.
On top of the funding cuts, the Government-Owned Broadband Network Limitation amendment would effectively ban new municipal broadband networks and restrict existing networks from serving new customers. The amendment places undue burdens on local governments who wish to improve their communities’ economic standing and limits the funding sources those governments can use to expand broadband access.
“This amendment came out of nowhere, with no prior vetting or interested party meetings” said Tom Reid, a broadband consultant working with the four local development districts. “If approved, it has the potential to harm Ohio citizens and prevent local governments from taking charge of their own digital futures.”