With all the other problems rural Ohioans face, especially those in the Appalachian counties, growth of modern technology has added to them. One in particular is troublesome: lack of access to competitive and adequate broadband service.
It affects economic opportunities, educational achievement and even property values. State officials are beginning to notice, but change will likely take several years.
According to The Associated Press, a fact-finding effort by Republican Gov. Mike DeWine’s administration identified a number of causes for the lack of broadband availability to include outdated tax codes, missed funding opportunities, maps that incorrectly show where service is available and bureaucratic red tape.
About 1 million Ohio residents out of a total population of about 11.7 million do not have access to broadband internet service. They live in about 300,000 households.
People who responded to DeWine’s request for information said no best practice strategy exists among states for introducing broadband in underserved areas. However, states that have had success have been more aggressive in their approach than Ohio.
Rights of way along limited-access highways could be leveraged to expand broadband availability, according to the report.
Increased private investment and Ohio’s efforts to become a leader in developing “smart” transportation corridors could provide additional momentum, the AP reported.
DeWine said his administration is committed to making sure broadband is part of the state’s overall infrastructure strategy.
The request for information asked broadband providers which highway corridors would be of interest if the state makes them available for private use. The report also said it may take a variety of approaches to succeed at getting affordable, reliable internet service into all communities, according to the AP.
Jack Marchbanks, director of the Ohio Department of Transportation, said his department will be fully engaged.
“Whether it’s connecting children to information at school or connecting smart vehicles to infrastructure, access to broadband is vital in the 21st Century,” Marchbanks said.
Businesses need broadband to compete in the world market. Students need it to keep up with their studies and to keep up with their competition in their quest to access top-level institutions of higher learning.
And homeowners who have lived in their dwellings for 20 years or more must accept that their homes are less desirable on the market if the local broadband offerings are inadequate or nonexistent.
Building trunk lines along the major highways is a good start, but it’s only a start. Ohio counties in this area have few highways that are listed as limited access. Those would include U.S. 52 in Lawrence and Scioto counties, U.S. 35 in Gallia County, U.S. 23 in Scioto County and U.S. 33 and a few miles of Ohio 7 in Meigs County.
Only a few incorporated communities are adjacent to those roads. As with the electric grid, the trunk lines along the highways would have to act as bulk transmission lines, with distribution lines branching off from them if entire counties are to be served.
One key to all this is competition. Rural and small-town Ohioans need competition among internet providers to ensure good and reliable service.
A few years ago, broadband service might have been thought of as a luxury. Today it’s more of a necessity and, although not regulated as one, a public utility.
Ohio and other states, including West Virginia, must do their parts in leveling the playing field in broadband access by doing everything they can to bring competitive, available service to all parts of their states, even the hilly rural ones.