Ohio’s GOP vs Municipal Broadband

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The Ohio Senate GOP members are proposing a budget plan that would eliminate the state’s 30-plus municipal broadband programs and remove $190 million in state grants slated to expand high-speed internet. According to Cleveland.com, Republicans slipped language into the state budget plan at the eleventh hour, which would force municipal broadband programs to cease if a private-sector company operates in the same area and bars municipalities from accepting federal money for broadband programs. 

Opponents say the proposal would cause every existing municipal broadband program — including those in Fairlawn, Hudson, Medina, and Wadsworth — to dissolve and prevent any new programs from starting up. “If this amendment is kept in there, you basically have three or four private, monopolistic internet broadband companies that will be dictating the technology future of the state of Ohio,” said Fairlawn Mayor Bill Roth.

The two biggest broadband providers in Ohio are Charter Spectrum and AT&T, reported Cleveland.com. However, both companies have been slow to upgrade infrastructure (or refused to build it altogether) to maintain the highest speeds, so municipalities built their own networks to fill the gap. 

“When you give [private companies] the chance, and they refuse or are unable to do it,” Roth said, “then my question is: is the state of Ohio supposed to remain in the dark ages?” He added that after Fairlawn built a broadband network that achieves speeds up to 100 Gbps, home values increased, and several businesses relocated from overseas to the area. 

These statistics are opposite of the situation in Cleveland, OH, which was recently ranked as one of the worst-connected cities in the country, with more than 30 percent of residents lacking broadband access, reported Cleveland.com. According to nonprofit executive Justin Bibb, who’s a Cleveland mayoral candidate, “If signed into law, this ban on broadband will make closing the digital divide in Cleveland virtually impossible.”

City Council President Kevin Kelley, also running for mayor of Cleveland, added that if the amendment passes, the law will be challenged in court. “It is just a transparent attack on municipalities and our efforts to extend broadband services for those who need it the most at a time when we need it the most,” he said. “It is absolutely irresponsible legislating. It is done as a favor to the legacy carriers, and we’re going to do everything we can to fight it.”

Kelley added that the attack on municipal broadband programs is not uncommon. According to BroadbandNow, 18 states restrict municipal programs in favor of private-sector networks. In addition, Cleveland.com reported that internet providers and telecommunications companies are generally big political donors and often try to stop municipal programs at the state level. 

The GOP’s amendment passed by a party-line vote of 25-8; it will move on to the House and Senate budget negotiators. Additionally, Gov. Mike DeWine, who allocated the $190 million in broadband expansion funds plus recently passed House Bill 2, providing $20 million in state grants for broadband, could also veto the proposal. 

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