(Photo by Leonardo Fernandez Viloria/Getty Images).
Few items in the new state budget will have as direct an impact on Ohioans’ lives as the money to be spent on improving access to broadband internet, what one lawmaker has long championed as the “great social equalizer of our time.”
Lawmakers agreed to spend $250 million on broadband internet expansion projects to aid the estimated 1 million Ohioans who currently lack affordable, reliable internet at home.
Members created the “Ohio Residential Broadband Expansion Grant Program” last month and allocated an initial $20 million toward the program. But some lawmakers as well as Gov. Mike DeWine and other public advocates wanted the budget to spend a much greater amount.
It took some negotiating — the Ohio Senate wanted no extra funding for internet expansion, with its Republican leader, President Matt Huffman of Lima, expressing doubt in the merits of the grant program. But he later described being convinced.
The $250 million matches the original amount sought by DeWine in his administration’s budget proposal.
The grant program is meant to give broadband providers an incentive to pursue expansion projects in places (typically rural areas) that otherwise would be too challenging or unprofitable. They will apply for funding to pay for “cost gaps,” with priorities given to geographic areas currently lacking access to high-speed internet.
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