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Need for reliable broadband critical during COVID-19 crisis

The need for a more robust broadband network in rural parts of Ohio has been magnified with the COVID-19 crisis, forcing many to do at home what they would normally do in an office or a classroom.

Shaeley Warner
Shaeley Warner poses with one of her crossbred heifers on her Licking County farm.

That was the case for Shaeley Warner, a Farm Bureau member and student at Ohio State’s Wooster Campus, when she was sent to her Licking County home early for spring break to help stop the spread of the coronavirus.

“Most of my classes are going to be streamed live and the teachers and students will be able to interact with each other and it does require some type of internet service,” Warner said. “Our broadband situation is not great and we don’t have streaming capabilities here.”

Warner’s family has tried other methods to get online, including using their LTE network from their mobile phone provider, but that option isn’t much better.

With more business and government closures happening across the state to slow down the spread of COVID-19, Warner is concerned that other options, like local fast food restaurants or libraries, will not be there when she needs them.

“Funding is the key,” said Jenna Beadle, director of state policy with Ohio Farm Bureau. “If it were economically profitable for companies to provide broadband in rural areas that would already be happening.”

Gov. Mike DeWine announced the creation of BroadbandOhio, an office dedicated to improving access to high-speed internet across Ohio. 

“BroadbandOhio will implement our strategy for increasing high-speed internet access to underserved and unserved Ohioans across the state,” according to DeWine. “We know there are more than 300,000 households in Ohio without broadband access. We need to increase access, and establishing the office is a first step.”

BroadbandOhio will implement the Ohio Broadband Strategy and be the point of contact for all broadband projects in Ohio. The office will be charged with identifying high-priority initiatives and ensure their completion. It also will serve as a liaison among state agencies in order to implement the goals of the state in expanding access and supporting Ohioans who have been left without access to the modern economy, education system and healthcare system due to their lack of high-speed connectivity.

Beadle said because of Gov. DeWine’s approach to rural broadband and his InnovateOhio initiative, Ohio now qualifies for federal dollars from USDA to boost broadband efforts in rural parts of the state.

Legislative measures in the works, such as HB 13 and additional funding from Ohio’s biennial budget, will continue to move the needle for high-speed internet connections to underserved areas. The push is for more than curricular and entertainment purposes.

“It is not attractive to do business in places that don’t offer a solid broadband connection and so upgrading the broadband system is important to economic development,” Beadle said. “It is also essential for health care. As costs continue to rise and specialists in rural Ohio declines, telehealth services are going to be crucial in providing the necessary medical services that less populated areas are lacking.”