FILE - Rural broadband

Microsoft is teaming up with Watch Communications to expand rural broadband access throughout Ohio and two other states. Watch Communications received funds from the FCC to assist with rural broadband expansion.

“Public-private partnerships, collaboration and understanding local initiatives are key to enabling connectivity success,” Greg Jarman, chief operating officer of Watch Communications, said in a news release. “Providing rural broadband can be difficult, so working as a team to solve the digital divide requires partners. We are excited to partner with Microsoft on this initiative.”

The partnership is expected to provide broadband access to 2.5 million Ohioans, 288,000 of whom do not currently have access to it. According to the FCC, more than 620,000 Ohioans live in areas that do not have access to broadband. According to Microsoft, nearly seven million people in the state are not using broadband-speed internet.

“You can’t be a part of the modern economy or education system without access to high-speed internet, and we are taking steps in Ohio to extend broadband to those who are underserved across the state,” Lt. Governor Jon Husted said in a news release. “Thank you to Microsoft for being among the leaders on this and for being willing to consider innovative solutions to help extend opportunity to people in Ohio who need it.”

Greg Lawson, a research fellow at The Buckeye Institute, told The Center Square that it is good that Ohio is leveraging the private sector to expand broadband, but that he always has concerns when taxpayer money is involved in these projects. The Buckeye Institute is an Ohio-based, free-market think tank.

In many instances, Lawson said that local governments are creating government-owned broadband networks. Although he thinks this approach is better, he said there needs to be guardrails that ensure fairness and prevent anyone from receiving special favors.

Lawson said that broadband expansion may open up some doors that could improve the economy, but that it will not be a solution to fixing economically deprived regions. Although broadband access is helpful for starting businesses or allowing remote work, he said that this will not prevent cities from continuing to pull in workers because of all the other resources and advantages they have available.

Indiana and Illinois are the other two states that will be beneficiaries of this project.

Staff Writer

Tyler Arnold reports on Virginia and Ohio for The Center Square. He previously worked for the Cause of Action Institute and has been published in Business Insider, USA TODAY College, National Review Online and the Washington Free Beacon.