SCIOTO — Since Gov. Mike DeWine announced his proposed two-year budget in February, the Scioto County Commissioners have been asked multiple times their thoughts on what the legislation could mean for the county.
Among the list of the budget’s included items, the board has voiced its support for children’s services, indigent defense, and broadband. However, through a vote by the Ohio Senate last week, the original $250 million set aside for broadband could be removed completely.
That decision could prove to be a big hit to rural counties like Scioto, the board said during its Thursday meeting.
“We need full funding,” Commissioner Bryan Davis said, the Ohio House of Representatives voting earlier to allocate $190 million into their version of House Bill 110.
The process is one Davis has seen before he said, where initial promises of expanded funding were made but not followed through. The effects of COVID-19 however made the need for broadband all the more pressing.
Commissioner Scottie Powell said the need is known at the state level, visitors from Columbus frequently making mention of broadband. He too wants to see action on this front rather than discussion.
“It would be a huge disservice to the community if we see cuts in that line item,” he said, the passed budget still needing the approval of the governor. “At this point, internet is as critical as water when you’re thinking about businesses and the ability to start a business or even to work from home.”
At a time where many students and parents worked outside the classroom or office, at-home internet access was a service that many in Scioto did and do not have. To get their work completed, many had to go to parking lots and connect to WiFi.
“When they start trying to figure out how to make up the whole pie, broadband always eventually gets cut,” Davis said, describing the budgeting process. “I applaud their efforts and we appreciate every bit they do, but we need all hands on deck to move on this.”
Efforts this year include House Bill 2, which created the $20 million Ohio Residential Broadband Expansion Grant Program. Bill sponsor Rep. Rick Carfagna, R-Genoa Township, called broadband the “great social equalizer of our time” after the bill passed last month.
This earlier vote was done nearly unanimously with only four votes- all Republicans- out of 95 in the Ohio House were against it with bipartisan support. As Lt. Gov. Jon Husted told the Portsmouth Daily Times previously, this is a unifying issue.
“Both Democrats and Republicans are having constituents that are being left behind,” said Husted in an article from the Times’ 2021 “Progress” edition. “This is the bridge that pulls them together because whether you’re in a poor urban area or a very rural area and your constituents don’t have access to the internet or can’t afford it; you’re united by that common problem.”
Of the estimated near million Ohio residents without internet, more than 16,500 or 22% of Scioto County residents according to data from the Ohio Lt. Gov.’s Office. For neighboring Pike and Adams counties, 39% and 57% respectively do not have internet in their homes.
Davis said the push for increased broadband access will continue by the board and through the lobbying efforts of the County Commissioners Association of Ohio who has identified it as a top policy priority this year.
According to the Greater Ohio Policy Center, $5.68 billion is headed to the state through the American Rescue Plan. Davis would like to see a portion of those funds head towards infrastructure projects like broadband.
“With the money that the state received through the American Rescue Plan, I believe the money is there, ” he said, the county also receiving $14.6 million through ARPA, adding later, “The rural communities, the rural counties, need this more than, let’s say the three C’s (Columbus, Cleveland, Cincinnati,), T (Toledo), and D (Dayton).”
“We need this and we’ll keep on fighting.”
Reach Patrick Keck (740)-353-3101 ext. 1931, by email at [email protected], or on Twitter @pkeckreporter.
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