CIRCLEVILLE — A bill to create a state program aimed at increasing broadband access has made another step — passing the Ohio House of Representatives this week.

House Bill 2 was co-sponsored by Brian Stewart (R-Ashville) and Rick Carfagna (R- Genoa Township). The bill will provide grants through the first-ever Residential Broadband Expansion Program in an effort to facilitate “last mile” access to unserved homes across Ohio. The bill contains $210 million in grant funding over a three-year period and industry reforms designed to drive increased private investment of broadband infrastructure in unserved areas.

“Now more than ever, Ohioans are relying on broadband and internet services in their everyday lives as they work remotely and attend school virtually,” Stewart said. “This is the first bill I sponsored as a State Representative and I was proud to joint-sponsor this legislation alongside my friend and colleague, Rick Carfagna.”

Carfagna noted House Bill 2’s companion bill, Senate Bill 8, has recently been referred to the Ohio Finance Committee.

“This legislation is a critical step in the right direction to ensure reliable, high-speed internet services and broadband services are brought to the most unserved and underserved areas of Ohio,” said Carfagna. “It’s encouraging to see how quickly we can identify and solve problems when we all unite under one common effort.”

“Sponsored by Senator McColley, Senate Bill 8 is an identical piece of legislation to House Bill 2 but for the emergency clause and updated amounts of funding,” Carfagna added. “It’s exciting to work so closely with our colleagues in the Senate to collectively work on a piece of legislation that is so widely supported.”

Governor DeWine and Lt. Governor Husted have both shown their strong support for House Bill 2.

“The governor’s Executive Budget proposal 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.”

Just last year, Pickaway County began discussions on the topic of Ohio’s broadband map. Then State Representative, now Pickaway County Commissioner Gary Scherer, hosted a pair of meetings to understand the scope of the need and what was actually available to people across Pickaway County early on in 2020, just before the pandemic began.

Pickaway Progress Partnership Executive Director Ryan Scribner, shared the importance of the internet then, even before the COVID-19 pandemic forced many people to conduct school, business and more online.

“It has become critical infrastructure and it’s not optional anymore,” Scribner said at that meeting. “We really need it to grow and have the amenities and quality of life as residents and to be able to attract the type of businesses we want.”

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