The Ohio Senate unanimously passed House Bill 2 on April 28, creating the state’s first-ever broadband grant program for unserved and underserved areas. Farm and Dairy reported the bill was first introduced last year as House Bill 13 but lost momentum.
According to Sen. Tim Schaffer, the grant program could be a “game changer” for rural Ohio. Farm and Dairy reported that nearly 1 million Ohioans lack broadband access, and expanding to rural areas isn’t always financially feasible for providers.
The bill dedicates $20 million in funding for the fiscal year 2021. Budgeting is still in progress for the next two fiscal years, but estimates include $170 million earmarked for 2022 and $20 million for 2023.
The grant program will be housed in the Development Services Agency, according to Farm and Dairy. The bill also creates the Broadband Expansion Program Authority. Under the bill, chosen broadband providers must submit annual progress reports or operational reports for four years after the project is complete.
Farm and Dairy reported the bill focuses on financial challenges with expanding broadband but doesn’t address affordability at the customer level. Sen. Tina Maharath suggested the authority should also include a member who represents the interests of broadband customers. Sen. Sandra Williams added that many residents from urban areas, like Cleveland, testified in committee hearings about challenges with affordability.
As a next step, the bill will move to the House. If approved, it will go to Gov. Mike DeWine’s desk for his signature.
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