The lack of high-speed, high-quality internet access in Ohio is a significant barrier that negatively impacts everything from how Ohioans learn and earn a living to how we keep our communities safe. . This challenge has led to major investments by federal and state governments.
Unfortunately, some organizations are putting their self-interests ahead of the needs of all Ohioans, calling on communities to avoid expanding local high-speed, high-quality broadband access with these funds. This approach is extremely myopic and puts Ohioans at a disadvantage in a world where connectivity is critical to success.
It’s no secret that Ohio is being left behind when it comes to connectivity. According to Connecting Appalachia, Ohio is ranked 37th in the nation for Internet connectivity and access. Even in communities with ISPs, the choices may be inadequate, unaffordable, or lacking the speed to adequately meet the needs of businesses, schools, and residents. These problems are not limited to Appalachia or rural Ohio; in 2019, Cleveland was found to be the least well-connected major city in the country.
Private Internet companies have taken steps to address these concerns, but it’s clear they don’t have the bandwidth to connect everyone in Ohio.
Many communities have realized the frustration of waiting years for private companies to provide this essential service and have chosen to take a proactive approach. More than 30 Ohio communities have made a local decision to invest their money wisely in developing broadband infrastructure for their constituents.
These community networks fulfill vital roles in providing high-speed, reliable connectivity to our essential schools, hospitals and public safety services. In many cases, communities have established public-private partnerships, providing and facilitating the installation of infrastructure that allows private Internet providers to offer services to the community. According to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, community broadband and public-private partnerships account for nine of the 10 fastest broadband networks in the country.
Opponents of these networks will erroneously point to the same “failed” examples as a reason to deny this opportunity to all communities, without providing important context or acknowledging the hundreds of well-managed and thriving networks across the country.
The economic and access benefits of communities with strong broadband networks are undisputed. A report Deloitte found a strong correlation between broadband availability, jobs and GDP growth. A 10 percentage point increase in broadband access in 2014 would have created more than 875,000 additional jobs in the United States and $186 billion in additional economic output in 2019.
By discouraging communities from investing in this crucial infrastructure, we allow private companies to pick the winners in our state.
Municipalities that have invested in building community broadband networks do so because their citizens need access – and the private sector is unable or uninterested in providing it to their community of fair and affordable way.
Local governments understand the needs of their citizens better than anyone, so decisions about Internet services must be made at the community level. Internet access in Ohio is not a unique technology, and communities should not have their arms tied behind their backs or be held hostage by private companies whose priority is return on investment.
Right now, we need to do everything we can, using all the tools at our disposal, to increase access to safe, high-speed broadband for our children, our businesses, our families, and our communities.
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