Osswald Family, Preble County

Broadband program signed into law

Legislation to provide funding for expanding broadband has been introduced for several years in the Ohio General Assembly and has gone nowhere – until now.
The Ohio General Assembly passed House Bill 2 at the end of April, and it was was signed into law by Gov. Mike DeWine on May 17. The bill allocates $20 million this year for broadband and establishes the Ohio Residential Broadband Expansion Program.

“The need for reliable internet access to rural Ohio has been something that Farm Bureau has been stressing for years,” said Jack Irvin, Ohio Farm Bureau vice president of public policy. “We appreciate the commitment from Gov. DeWine and the General Assembly to the issue that impacts so many of our members and their families.”

The change can’t come soon enough for rural Ohioans like the Osswalds in
Preble County.

When snow forced the four Osswald children and their teacher mom to work remotely from home for a week in mid-February, it only took two days before they knew they were in trouble.

Claire, Ethan and Natalie Osswald need reliable rural broadband access for school. Their farm has no access to broadband, so to get on the internet they rely on a cell-phone company hotspot that provides 50 gigabytes a month for $50. By the second day, as mom Bambi taught her ninth grade English students online, each child was in remote learning at National Trail Local Schools and father Lane was working on his taxes, their gigabytes ran out.

Luckily, they also had hot spots on their individual cell phones they could use to access their online classes for the most part. But for Bambi, teaching students through Google Meet on her phone was taxing.

“I couldn’t even see all of them,” said Bambi, a teacher in Huber Heights City Schools.

An Ohio State University study found that 1 million Ohioans – nearly 12% – can’t get high-speed internet or are underserved where they live. Jenna Reese, director of state policy for Ohio Farm Bureau, said the cost to connect all Ohioans who don’t have internet access is estimated at $2 billion, with most of that needed to link homes and businesses in Ohio’s Appalachia.

“In the future we’re going to be more and more dependent on the internet,” said Lane, who also serves as an Ohio Farm Bureau state trustee and was recently elected treasurer. He’s online daily for research, grain marketing, recordkeeping, communication, banking and a variety of other reasons. “The other day we had to back up a cell phone and it took four hours. We’re at a competitive disadvantage without high-speed internet. Time is everything in this business.”

Pandemic brought issue to forefront

DeWine noted when signing the HB2 legislation into law that the yearlong pandemic starkly demonstrated the desperate need to expand broadband in Ohio. Kids need it as a key tool in their education both when school is remote and for homework, employees need it to work from home, farmers need it to manage their farms and everyone needs it to communicate and use telehealth.

Other efforts also are in play on the broadband front. The next two-year state budget contains nearly $200 million for the Ohio Residential Broadband Grant Program. DeWine noted the years of work from Rep. Rick Carfagna, Rep. Brian Stewart and others in the legislature to bring the broadband legislation to fruition.

“This is something for which we have a broad consensus – Republicans, Democrats, rural, urban and suburban,” DeWine said. “We must move on this in Ohio and we must move very quickly.”