The internet has changed the way people live and work around the globe. Access to the internet is the emerging essential utility service. In larger cities across the U.S., there’s no concern that high-speed access is available via cable providers, cellular networks, Wi-Fi, and other broadband channels. However, throughout much of rural Ohio and rural America, high-speed internet access, commonly known as “broadband,” isn’t available.
More than 1 million Ohioans lack access to fast, reliable broadband service. Nationally, the figure is a staggering 23 million. Rural broadband deployment should be inherent to the state’s infrastructure plans and development. Broadband is essential for education, health care, and business, including access to global markets.
Rural America already faces stiff economic challenges. Fewer than 15 percent of American businesses are located in rural areas and small towns. Inadequate high-speed internet access is making the problem worse and contributing to the exodus of talented young people from the rural landscape. The convergence of new technology and partnerships has made rural broadband deployment more achievable than ever, but high costs remain the biggest obstacle to distribution in less populated areas.
That’s why Ohio’s Electric Cooperatives strongly supports Ohio House Bill 378, which establishes the Ohio Broadband Grant Program. It’s a good start. However, if we’re going to solve this national problem, we’ll clearly need additional federal investment. Rural Ohio’s need for broadband connectivity is about better access to telehealth services, as well as educational opportunities and increased access to home learning, which, in turn, provides a more skilled rural workforce and an advanced talent pool.
Further, rural broadband service means an enhanced online presence for rural retail outlets, and thus a healthier rural trade economy. For many rural communities, high-speed internet in today’s universal environment means access to prosperity.
Ohio’s Electric Cooperatives is committed to strong and healthy local communities. A vibrant 21st-century rural economy depends on expanded high-speed internet access and electric grid modernization efforts. That’s why we’re working to be a part of the solution to Ohio’s underserved areas.