COLUMBUS – State Representatives Rick Carfagna (Genoa Twp.) and Brian Stewart (R-Ashville) today introduced legislation that would expand broadband access across Ohio through the creation of Ohio’s first ever Residential Broadband Expansion Program. House Bill 2 would provide grants to offset construction cost hurdles and help facilitate the expansion of high-speed internet and all broadband services to unserved households across Ohio.
“This legislation passed out of the Ohio House with bipartisan support last General Assembly and I’m excited to be reintroducing it alongside my colleague Brian Stewart,” said Carfagna. “Nearly one million Ohioans lack access to reliable high-speed internet service simply because of where they reside. We need to change that through cooperative efforts between the state and broadband providers, and House Bill 2 is the first step in doing so.”
The legislation would target the problem of last mile connectivity to households where it remains cost-prohibitive for private providers to otherwise extend their service. The legislation also contains critical industry reforms designed to drive increased private investment of broadband infrastructure in unserved areas. The industry reforms represent the culmination of good-faith meetings between legislators, internet service providers and Ohio’s Rural Electric Cooperatives.
“With so many schools being taught virtually and Ohio’s workers relying on the internet to do their work from home during the COVID-19 pandemic, access to high-speed internet is now more essential than ever,” said Stewart. “The program laid out in this legislation will help ensure Ohioans have the opportunity to experience a wide array of economic, education and social advantages accessed through high-speed internet.”
Carfagna also referenced Senate Bill 8, identical companion legislation sponsored by State Senator Rob McColley (R-Napoleon) and currently pending in the Senate Energy and Public Utilities Committee.
“Senator McColley did a masterful job of shepherding our bill and helping us craft revisions at the end of the last General Assembly,” remarked Carfagna. “We are thrilled to be coordinating efforts with him and running parallel pathways to get this legislation done as quickly as possible.”
House Bill 9 has the strong support of both Governor DeWine and Lt. Governor Husted, who earlier this week pledged $290 million in their state biennial budget proposal to expand broadband access throughout Ohio. Having been drafted under the Administration’s previous pledge of $20 million for the remainder of FY21, House Bill 9 is expected to be funded with additional commitments of at least $20 million each year of the upcoming biennium.
“The Governor’s Executive Budget proposal announced this week makes an unprecedented investment into broadband expansion efforts,” Lt. Governor Husted said. “Thanks to Representatives Carfagna and Stewart for leading the charge on this in the Ohio House so we can address the state’s digital divide from all sides, through dynamic partnerships and solutions, and so that unserved and underserved Ohio families can participate in today’s modern economy, modern education system, and modern healthcare system.”