The Ohio Chamber supported the efforts to enact House Bill 2 that would provide money and method to extend broadband to areas of Ohio that are unserved by high-speed internet. This delinquency in coverage became more acute during the pandemic, when Ohioans stayed home and education, work and in some cases, healthcare were delivered via videoconferencing.
Passage of HB 2 led to the creation of the Ohio Residential Broadband Expansion Program. This program was allocated $250 million for the initial grants. During the enactment of HB 2, the scope of the issue was unclear in terms of dollars needed. Broadly, the deficiency in service was described as 300,000 households. This only provided scope for residential homes and did not describe the deficiency for small businesses, and we did not have a dollar amount to paint the full picture of the issue to be resolved. We now have at least a partial answer to this question. The initial applications for grants totaled $1.5 billion dollars.
After HB 2 was enacted, the BroadbandOhio office set in motion a timeline for the Broadband Expansion Grant Authority. The Ohio Chamber has remained involved with the group and regularly attends the meetings and monitors the webpage for developments. The timeline set a November 8, 2021, deadline for applications to receive a grant for expansion of broadband infrastructure to provide high-speed internet to unserved areas of Ohio. The Authority published the applications on Monday, December 13. That triggered the complaint/review period, which ends on January 12, 2022. This period allows objections to be raised against an application that may be providing duplicative service, may not meet the guidelines required by the application or for other reasons. The Authority will review the objections and award grants, most likely in February. The work ahead will not be easy. The Authority is reviewing 218 applications that cover areas in 87 of the 88 counties and will need to take into consideration the anticipated challenges to some of the applications.
The Ohio Chamber will continue to monitor the process and provide updates on the process. Given the number of applications and the dollars sought, it is clear that the process identified a problem that needed to be addressed, and if the available grant monies cannot fully close the broadband gap, Ohio may be able to look to available federal dollars to augment the monies available for round two of the grant program.