As the Ohio Senate worked through its version of the Fiscal Year 2022-23 biennial budget, nearly $200 million in funding for the Broadband Expansion Grant Program, created for the development of broadband infrastructure and increased access for high-speed internet, was stripped.
In response, Ohio Farm Bureau Executive Vice President Adam Sharp sent a letter to the General Assembly this week, saying now is the time to address the need for reliable, affordable broadband for all Ohioans. A portion of the letter states:
“Only 61% of rural residents have access to broadband. There are entire communities in Ohio with no access to connectivity or limited reliability putting them at an economic disadvantage. Rural Ohioans’ quality of life depends on technology. Whether it be for education, business, health care, or entertainment, our need for reliable internet access is critical. With new broadband access comes increased economic opportunities especially considering the current changes taking place in the workforce. Without it, Ohioans in these unserved and underserved areas will continue to fall behind.”
The letter also emphasized the increasing use of broadband in agriculture and how access is essential for farmers to follow commodity markets, communicate with customers, deploy precision agriculture tools, comply with regulatory requirements and access new markets around the world.
“State tax revenues are running in surplus, and the state is receiving billions of dollars from the federal government. At least a portion of these resources should be reinvested in communities in need of broadband access,” Sharp wrote. “As the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted, the internet is no longer a luxury item as many aspects of society depend upon connectivity to sustain healthy communities. Therefore, Farm Bureau respectfully asks you to reinstate the Governor’s proposed funding levels for broadband in House Bill 110.”
The budget process will be moving at a feverish pace, as the bill must be completed by lawmakers, then reviewed and signed by Gov. Mike DeWine by June 30 for the appropriations to take effect July 1, the first day of the new state fiscal year.