Expand broadband access

Most residents of East Ohio appear to have reliable high-speed internet service. But, as a story we published Sunday explains, the region’s hilly terrain deprives many people of broadband access.

Several state legislators, with state Rep. Jack Cera, D-Bellaire, in a leadership role, want to do something about that. Cera and Rep. Ryan Smith, R-Bidwell, introduced a bill intended to provide money to expand internet access.

Their proposal, House Bill 378, is called the “Ohio Broadband Development Grant Program.” It would provide $100 million during a two-year period, for internet service to be expanded in rural areas.

Cera’s goal is for “Ohioans in all corners of the state to be more connected than ever before.” Internet access “has become a vital part of our everyday lives,” he says.

A similar bill was introduced in the state Senate earlier this fall. Clearly, there is extensive, bipartisan interest in the issue.

There is reason to believe the legislative initiatives, at least in their current formats, will go nowhere, however. That is because they rely on Ohio’s Third Frontier Program for the $100 million.

“The governor’s office may not be a fan of using the Ohio Third Frontier Program for this type of funding,” Cera noted. The program was created during Gov. John Kasich’s administration, as a means of aiding small, technology-based companies. It has enjoyed some success.

It would be understandable if Kasich balks at diluting the Third Frontier program by using it to fund broadband expansion in general, often to households rather than businesses.

Another concern is how far $100 million would go in providing more Ohioans access to high-speed internet service. The cost of linking widely scattered homes in rural areas to broadband infrastructure can be exeedingly high.

Cera and others involved in the campaign are to be commended, however. Even if the current initiative fails, it is an indication some legislators are thinking about better access to high-speed internet service — as they should.