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Broadband bill would improve online access

We urge Ohio Senate approval of a bill that would help improve broadband internet access to unserved or underserved areas of Ohio.

The bill passed overwhelmingly last week in the Statehouse by a vote of 91-5. It now needs passage from the Senate and the governor’s signature to become law.

The legislation targets “last-mile connectivity” to households where it remains cost-prohibitive for providers to extend service. It would focus the funding primarily on 37 “distressed counties,” including Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana counties. The bill sets aside $20 million in fiscal year 2021, then $170 million in fiscal year 2022 and $20 million in fiscal year 2023 for areas not served or underserved by broadband, according to Rep. Michael O’Brien, D-Warren.

O’Brien had sponsored the same bill last year that passed the House in June, but it died in the Senate. We urge Ohio’s senators not to allow that to happen again.

In a recent floor speech urging its passage, O’Brien said, “Ohio’s promise of better lives, better jobs and brighter futures begins with an infrastructure that’s built for the future, that levels the playing field and connects everyday Ohioans to the tools they need to live a better life.”

Undoubtedly, the COVID-19 pandemic has brought into full focus the critical need for widespread access to broadband internet.

It’s virtually impossible to conduct business or educate our youth without fast internet access and Wi-Fi service. Health care access and counseling now often are being done via the internet. These days, local government meetings are being conducted via Zoom. With their schools closed, millions of students now rely on “remote learning” via the internet. And, let’s not forget social and entertainment activities, shopping or just basic information access often requires broadband internet.

We could argue that broadband connectivity is just as critical to our livelihoods and to our economy these days as the infrastructure that brings other utilities into our homes and businesses.

Unfortunately, way too many homes are unable to access internet with reasonable speed, or in some cases, even at all. That lack of high-speed internet access is a looming problem that exists particularly in many rural areas of Ohio and the Mahoning Valley. Statewide, more than 1 million Ohioans have no connectivity.

“Many of us take this technology for granted, yet so many Ohioans still lack access to these basic, essential services,” O’Brien said. The bill “expands opportunity and does what good government is supposed to do: it sees a wrong and tries to right it.”

The Ohio Residential Broadband Expansion bill could help move Ohio forward in this regard. This bill is a step forward on a very important issue that needs a focused plan. We encourage bipartisan support in the Senate. Certainly, in this 21st century, a choice to live or set up business away from the hubbub of the city should not mean your online access to the rest of the world is eliminated.

Speedy access to information and educational tools via broadband should be available to all. Life in 2021 depends on it.

editorial@tribtoday.com

SCRIPTURE

The Lord your God is in your midst, A victorious warrior. He will rejoice over you with joy, He will be quiet in His love, He will rejoice over you with shouts of joy.

Zephaniah 3:17 NASB

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