COLUMBUS—The Ohio House of Representatives has passed legislation to help expand high-speed internet access to rural areas across the state.

Sponsored by Reps. Ryan Smith (R-Bidwell) and Jack Cera (D-Bellaire), House Bill 378 creates the Ohio Broadband Development Grant Program. The program would invest $100 million over the next two years through the proceeds of bonds supporting Ohio’s Third Frontier Program.

Nearly 300,000 rural households in Ohio do not have access to broadband internet, placing limitations on educational opportunities, economic growth and public safety resources.

“The overwhelming bipartisan support of House Bill 378 demonstrates Ohio’s resolve to not fall behind in encouraging and supporting broadband infrastructure investment, especially in the hardest-to-serve areas,” said Smith, who represents Jackson and Gallia counties, as well as portions of Lawrence and Vinton counties.

Under the bill, private businesses, political subdivisions, nonprofit entities and cooperatives may apply for a grant through the Ohio Development Services Agency (DSA) and include information detailing the project.

After evaluating the applications, the DSA Director would award grants based on certain criteria to qualified applicants in geographically dispersed regions of the state. Grant amounts cannot exceed 1.) 50 percent of the project’s total cost, or 2.) $5 million, whichever amount is less.

House Bill 378 now awaits further consideration in the Ohio Senate.