COLUMBUS— Ohio Governor Mike DeWine, Lt. Governor Jon Husted, and BroadbandOhio announced four teams from 11 Ohio counties will participate in the first cohort of a new planning and capacity-building program to help leverage historic broadband infrastructure funding for community-driven broadband expansion.
“In the coming weeks and months, communities across Ohio will receive a historic amount of funding for broadband expansion, and we want to ensure that communities know how to deploy these funds efficiently and effectively,” said Governor DeWine. “This will help local governments throughout Ohio receive expert support as they prepare to leverage new state and federal funding for broadband expansion.”
The BroadbandOhio Community Accelerator program is a collaborative effort between BroadbandOhio, Heartland Forward, the Benton Institute, and The Ohio State University Office of Extension. The pilot program was initiated and is funded by Heartland Forward through its Connecting the Heartland initiative.
The participating teams are Team Defiance County, Team Shelby County, Team Tuscarawas County, and Team Ohio Valley Regional Development Commission (OVRDC). These teams are made up of 50 representatives from 11 counties across Ohio.
Community planning support offered through initiatives like the Accelerator will help more villages, cities, and counties – regardless of size or staffing – prepare for the funding opportunities from both the state and federal levels by creating local plans on how to expand broadband access.
“Access to broadband is the great equalizer for economic development and educational opportunities. For too long Southern Ohio has had an access problem that has held the region back from our full potential,” Scioto County Commissioner Scottie Powell said. “I applaud the Governor, Lt. Governor, and the Director of Development for providing the additional funding to close these gaps in service and to level the playing field for our citizens.”
“We’re committed to ensuring that all Ohioans have access to high-speed internet, and the BroadbandOhio Community Accelerator program will play an important part in those efforts,” said Lt. Governor Husted. “These communities have the opportunity to receive expert instruction to help them launch shovel-ready projects that can take advantage of available funding, and we’re thankful to Ohio State University Extension, Heartland Forward, and the Benton Institute for joining in this initiative.”
The Accelerator program works to prepare communities to establish and implement a full-scale broadband connectivity vision. Through more than 30 hours of no-cost expert counseling provided by the Benton Institute and Ohio State University Extension, the program offers structured engagement for communities to identify broadband goals, gather data, understand available funding options, and target capital dollars to support implementation.
“The Accelerator program builds on efforts we launched in Ohio in 2021 in collaboration with BroadbandOhio and other stakeholders, including a public awareness campaign for the FCC’s Emergency Broadband Benefit program to get affordable internet to those in need and placing two American Connection Corps fellows in Ohio communities to help advance high-speed internet access, adoption, and utilization,” said Angie Cooper, chief program officer for Heartland Forward. “The historic influx of federal funding for high-speed internet is welcome news in the fight to close the digital divide in Ohio and across the heartland, but we have heard that many communities — especially smaller ones — are not prepared to take advantage of this opportunity to bring connectivity to their residents. Heartland Forward is proud to support local planning and capacity building, which is critical to making sure infrastructure dollars are spent efficiently and in the best interest of the communities they’re intended to help.”
“We are honored to collaborate with BroadbandOhio and Heartland Forward to work with unserved and underserved communities in a planning and engagement process modeled after a successful program designed by Blandin Foundation for Minnesota,” said Adrianne B. Furniss, executive director of the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society.
“Ohio State University Extension is excited to partner with the Ohio Department of Development and BroadbandOhio, to work collaboratively with communities to enhance their understanding of important resources for planning and funding broadband to enhance their quality of life,” said Dr. Jacqueline Wilkins, director of the Ohio State University Extension. “Whether it’s for schools, businesses, or agriculture, broadband is critical to the success of all Ohio communities.”