Cera introduces bill to help expand broadband infrastructure

COLUMBUS — Ohio Reps. Jack Cera and Ryan Smith introduced legislation that, if passed, would help expand broadband internet infrastructure in rural Ohio areas. Companion legislation was introduced in the Ohio Senate in September, led by primary sponsors Sens.

Joe Schiavoni, D-Boardman, who is also running for governor, and Cliff Hite, R-Findlay. Cera’s House Bill 378 would create the Ohio Broadband Development Grant Program, which would appropriate £100 million over the next two years from the proceeds of bonds issued to support Ohio’s Third Frontier Program. According to Cera, D-Bellaire, political subdivisions, businesses, nonprofits and co-ops would all be eligible to participate in the grant program, which would be administered by the Ohio Development Services Agency.

Third Frontier provides such groups access to a statewide network of resources through access to business expertise, mentorship, capital and talent to “help turn great ideas into thriving companies and well-paying jobs,” according to the Ohio Development Services Agency. Grants are worth up to £5 million per group. Internet providers often hesitate to expand into rural areas because they often have no guarantee of return on expensive infrastructure investments, with small populations meaning less customers.

The new grant program would subsidize the expansion of broadband into communities private companies have trouble affording to go. Introduced on Oct.

10, the bipartisan bill was referred to the House Finance Committee on Oct.

17, with Cera serving as ranking member of the committee and Smith serving as committee chairman. Rep.

Andy Thompson, R-Marietta, serves with Cera and Smith on the committee, along with 20 other Republicans and nine other Democrats. “Whether it’s applying for jobs, accessing critical health and financial information, taking classes or just trying to stay in touch with friends and family, the internet has become a vital part of our everyday lives,” Cera said. “H.B.

378 directs resources to build our broadband infrastructure and allow Ohioans in all corners of the state to be more connected than ever before.” Smith, R-Bidwell, said the bill would allow a more “level playing field” for rural Ohioans when it comes to high-speed internet access.

“High-speed broadband is the only way we can continue growing our economic base by attracting new commercial development and securing a strong labor force, our most valuable resources.” Cera said his goal is for the state to incentivize the private sector to expand into rural areas, and that rural areas need more help than more populated areas when it comes to technological infrastructure. “One of the problems is that technology keeps getting better, and a lot of investments in tech infrastructure happen where the technology already is, for example, in Franklin County,” Cera said. “Rural areas just keep getting farther behind.”

Cera added he is hopeful that he and Smith co-sponsoring the bill will “at least send a signal” to the industry and those looking at the issue, even if the measure does not pass. He expects no hearings on the bill until next year because of the limited amount of days left in this year’s session. “One sticking point in this bill is the source of funding.

The governor’s office may not be a fan of using the the Ohio Third Frontier Program for this type of funding,” Cera said. “But I asked for a breakout of where the funding for this program goes, and most of it goes to more populated areas.

Ryan and I just think it’s our turn for some of this funding and help from these types of programs.”

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