Guest Column from State Representative Ryan Smith

The world is constantly changing due to technological innovation. In order to keep up with this change, all Ohioans should have access to the infrastructure that supports these new technologies. Unfortunately, this is not the case throughout a large swath of Ohio. That is why my colleague Representative Jack Cera and I recently introduced House Bill 378 in the Ohio House of Representatives. House Bill 378 is bipartisan legislation designed to spur businesses, nonprofits, co-ops, and local governments to invest in the expansion of high-speed broadband capability.

The bill would create a grant program to assist these entities in bringing broadband infrastructure to unserved areas of our state. This money will be available via the proceeds of bonds issued in support of the Third Frontier Program, an initiative that provides a statewide network for businesses and entrepreneurs to grow, hire, and invest. Each entity would be able to apply for up to $5 million in grant funding through Ohio’s Development Services Agency, which will administer the program.

Wireless capability is often unreliable throughout much of southern and southeastern Ohio, even in the places where it is currently present, and more work must be done to remedy this problem. Where it is unavailable, the effects of the absence in service are quite clear. The issue negatively affects education, public safety, tourism, and economic development efforts, among others.

Students of all ages are increasingly using and learning from new forms of technology and are often required to complete homework online. First responders are sometimes unable to access satellite mapping in certain locations or quickly transmit patient data due to lack of bandwidth. For many out-of-state tourists who visit our area, high-speed broadband is commonplace. Some rely on wireless connectivity no matter where they travel and may go elsewhere to spend their money if connectivity is poor or absent. Finally, many businesses looking to expand operations will not even consider an area that lacks reliable wireless capability.

These are just a few examples of the numerous problems posed by lack of high-speed broadband in our area of the state. Educational attainment, public safety, and economic growth are three vital components for vibrant communities. Our region of Ohio is a wonderful place to live, work, and visit. Ensuring high-speed broadband capability will prove beneficial for this part of Ohio as well as the entire state.

Over the past few decades, technology has transformed our society in ways most of us could have never imagined. Means of communicating with one another has gone from using postal mail and landline phones to email, texting, and video messaging. The necessities of life are continually changing and communications methods of the past are fading away in favor of new, alternative forms.

It is my hope that this legislation will assist local entities throughout the state as they work with providers to expand service and modernize wireless infrastructure to keep up with tomorrow’s innovation. I believe House Bill 378 is a step in the right direction in the effort to provide access to all Ohioans no matter where they reside. As always, please feel free to contact my office with any questions or concerns about this or any other legislative issue.