On Wednesday, in a unanimous vote, the Ohio Senate passed Senate Bill 8 (SB 8). This legislation picks up the work left from the last general assembly when HB 13 failed to clear both chambers. Like HB 13, SB 8 creates a Broadband Expansion Program Authority (BEPA) to review applications from potential suppliers of broadband services to underserved areas in the state of Ohio. SB 8 moves BEPA back to the Ohio Development Services Agency (DSA). HB 13 would have put BEPA in the Department of Commerce.
SB 8 begins a process to address the 300,000 homes in Ohio that do not have access to high-speed internet services. The BEPA will use two application periods to award funds to bid winners seeking to add public monies to projects that just do not have a return on investment without the injection of public funds. SB 8 has funding of $20 million to assist the projects.
However, the governor’s announced budget has set aside one-time funding of $250 million to address the lack of broadband in the 300,000 homes mentioned above. It is unclear how this money will fit into the BEPA process outlined in SB 8. Hopefully, the money, if it stays in the budget enacted by the legislature, will be dedicated to the BEPA process.
The Ohio House has begun work on a companion bill, HB 2, that mirrors the language of SB 8. The Ohio Chamber supports both bills and will continue to follow the legislative process and work to get one of the bills over the finish-line. This is a critical need for the citizens of Ohio. As we stated in our testimony during Senate Energy hearings, in order for Ohio to continue to compete, innovate and meet the technological opportunities of the 21st century it needs to find ways to deploy broadband services to all areas of the state.