Ohio to Receive Nearly $800M for Internet Expansion Efforts

COLUMBUS, Ohio – The state of Ohio’s internet expansion efforts will get a $793 million boost from the U.S. Department of Commerce’s Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment program.

BroadbandOhio, a division of the Department of Development, will administer the state’s allocation of BEAD funding under the guidance of Commerce’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration. The program, established in 2021 as part of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, provides $42.5 billion to help states expand internet access by funding planning, infrastructure deployment and adoption programs. 

“Three years ago, we established our broadband office as a commitment to every Ohioan that we would work to bring broadband access to every corner of the state,” Gov. Mike DeWine said in announcing the funding Monday. “This historic funding made possible by our partners in the federal government puts us another crucial step closer to closing the digital divide in Ohio for good.”   

Funds released through the BEAD program will be disbursed to “unserved” and “underserved” communities using the Ohio Residential Broadband Expansion Grant process. Locations are considered “unserved” if they have internet speeds at or below 25 megabits per second download/3 Mbps upload, while “underserved” locations consist of areas with speeds at or below 100 Mbps download/20 Mbps upload. 

“There are still people, in 2023, who cannot participate in the modern economy, education or health care systems because they do not have affordable, reliable internet access,” Lt. Gov. Jon Husted said. “Internet is no longer just a luxury, and lack of access is no longer just a local issue. This support will allow us to bolster our efforts through the Ohio Broadband Strategy and make a real difference in our communities.” 

BroadbandOhio was awarded $5 million through the BEAD program last year to conduct stakeholder outreach as a first step toward receiving this funding. That input has helped BroadbandOhio create a five-year action plan, which will serve as a guide for how the state plans to use the full allotment of funding.  

Also on Monday, members of the Mahoning County Board of Commissioners and representatives of Eastgate Regional Council of Governments outlined plans for expansion of broadband access in rural parts of the county.

Commissioners first announced in a news release Friday that they planned to approve the allocation of $1.5 million from the county’s share of American Rescue Plan Act funds for ConnectMahoning, an initiative to expand broadband services in underserved rural sections of the county.

The initial focus will be on addressing needs in Springfield, Goshen, Milton, Jackson and Smith townships, five communities that Eastgate determined were most in need of broadband access.

President Joe Biden announced Monday that more than $40 billion would be distributed to states for high-speed internet where there’s no service or the service is too slow.

“But it’s not enough to have access – you need affordability and access,” Biden said, adding that his administration is working with service providers to bring down costs on what is now a household utility – like water or gas – but often remains priced at a premium.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.