COLUMBUS – Governor Mike DeWine yesterday signed into law legislation sponsored by State Representatives Rick Carfagna (Genoa Twp.) and Brian Stewart (R-Ashville) that would expand broadband access across Ohio through the creation of Ohio’s first ever Residential Broadband Expansion Program. The legislation, 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.
“Broadband is the great social equalizer of our time, it will bring employment, education, healthcare and commerce opportunities presently denied to so many throughout Ohio,” 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 targets 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. “Our broadband program will help ensure Ohioans have the opportunity to experience a wide array of economic, education and social advantages accessed through high-speed internet.”
DeWine signed the legislation into law at Amanda Elementary School in Middletown, where he was joined by educators, students, Rep. Carfagna, Lt. Governor Jon Husted, Development Services Agency Director Lydia Mihalik and State Superintendent Paolo DeMaria.
“This really is an exciting day. With the signing of House Bill 2, we know that many more projects like this will make it across the finish line,” said DeWine. “This is something where we have a broad consensus across the state of Ohio. Democrats, Republicans, rural, suburban and urban areas, there’s just this broad census that we must move and we must move very, very quickly in this area. Thus is really 2021 and it is essential for Ohio to move forward.”
DeWine and Carfagna both noted the $20 million immediately housed in the bill for the broadband construction grants, while calling upon the legislature to pass the $190 million in additional broadband funds proposed in the current draft of the state’s operating budget to make an even stronger statewide impact.
“We can’t make enough announcements like this. The passage of House Bill 2 is incredibly important to our path to success,” said Husted. “There’s a number of things that will change peoples’ lives with the passage of House Bill 2 and this is the way forward. It will give access telehealth for people who have never had it before and it will begin to change peoples’ lives. That’s what this is about: helping everybody succeed by giving them the tools they need to access the world to achieve their God-given hopes and aspirations.”
The bill signing event concluded a five-year effort by Carfagna on this legislation, which he designed after drawing from his work experiences in both the broadband industry and as a Genoa Township Trustee. He noted his work on the bill spanned three General Assemblies, four House Speakers, two Senate Presidents, and two Governors.
“It’s a long time coming,” Carfagna remarked. “But it’s been an even longer time coming for those across the state lacking access to this critical resource, it’s time to get to work and get these projects off the ground.”