(The Center Square) – Internet service providers in Ohio moved closer to receiving federal stimulus money set aside for rural broadband access as the state began accepting grant applications after several months of debate and multiple budget proposals.
Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine announced $250 million is available for broadband projects that improve high-speed internet access in unserved and underserved areas of the state.
"This program is a key investment in Ohio's future as we work toward eliminating the digital divide in our state," DeWine said. “Connecting our rural and underserved areas with reliable internet service will help bring these communities up to speed with the rest of the state and will be a driving force for economic growth."
Lt. Gov. Jon Husted called the program key to developing a high-tech broadband network throughout the state. Around 300,000 households in the state lack broadband access, amounting to around 1 million people, according to a news release from the governor’s office.
“This grant program is designed to help our local private and public sector partners expand high-speed, affordable internet in areas of Ohio that are presently underserved,” Husted said. “To be a part of the modern economy, education and healthcare systems, you need to have access to reliable internet, and this effort aims to close the digital divide.”
Grant applications are expected to be reviewed by the Ohio Department of Development and BroadbandOhio, a state office created in March 2020 to improve access to high-speed internet.
The grants are expected to help with the infrastructure costs of the project and help build networks in areas that a lack high-speed internet. The grants will cover the “broadband funding gap,” which is the difference between the total amount of money a broadband provider believes is necessary to build the last mile of a specific broadband network and the total amount of money the provider has determined is the maximum amount of money that is cost effective for the provider to invest in last mile construction for that network.
The Ohio House included hundreds of millions of dollars in its initial current fiscal year budget proposal to improve broadband access earlier this year. Those dollars were removed by the Senate but eventually included in the state’s final budget, which runs from July 1 through June 30, 2022.