CIRCLEVILLE — The Ohio General Assembly is considering legislation to improve and expand broadband access across Ohio through a new program called the Residential Broadband Expansion Program.

The legislation, co-sponsored in the Ohio House of Representatives by local Representative Brian Stewart (R-78), would provide grants to companies to offset construction cost hurdles to help facilitate upgrades needed to bring high-speed internet and broadband services to underserved houses in Ohio.

“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,” Stewart said. “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.”

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 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.

“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,” Rick Carfagna (R-68), who co-introduced the bill with Stewart, said.

“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.”

Another companion piece of legislation is in committee inside the Ohio State Senate. The bill also has support from Governor Mike DeWine and Lt. Governor Jon Husted. Last week, they pledged $290 million in the biennial budget proposal to expand services further. Twenty million has already been pledged for 2021.

“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.”

Broadband has been a hot topic locally for the last couple of years, then State Representative, now 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.

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