When the topic of rural broadband and the lack of affordable, reliable service comes up, many people assume that the issue pertains to Ohioans that  reside by the river in the far southern stretches of the state, in the southeastern Ohio foothills of Appalachia or the most rural parts of western or northeastern Ohio.

rural broadband mapWhile there are indeed major challenges in those areas, you don’t have to go very far outside of the most metropolitan areas of Ohio before access to broadband fizzles out. As you can see in the new digital map from the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration, there are still many parts of Ohio reporting connection speeds that fall below the FCC’s current benchmark for fixed broadband service of 25 Mbps download, 3 Mbps upload.

I live just 45 minutes from downtown Columbus, and we do not have broadband service on our farm. When we were all working from home at the same time our kids were learning from home, competing for what limited bandwidth was available to us through mobile networks and satellite became a source of consternation for many families like mine. Now it looks as though many of our members that feel my pain, the 39% of rural residents who don’t have access to broadband, may be getting some relief soon.

One of the largest line items in Ohio’s next budget, which Gov. Mike DeWine signed in July, contains $250 million for the newly created Ohio Rural Broadband Expansion Grant Program. These grants will be offered to internet service providers to help build the much-needed infrastructure for faster internet access to the 1 million Ohioans, or 11.7% of residents, who do not have access to reliable, high-speed internet simply because of where they live.

This was welcome news for Ohio Farm Bureau, as it was high on our priority list and was included in our 2021 Ohio Agriculture and Rural Communities Action Plan. In fact, I wrote to the General Assembly and emphasized how rural Ohioans’ quality of life depends on technology. I shared that whether we use it 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 expansion of rural broadband across Ohio also will give farmers essential access so they can follow commodity markets in real time, use the latest precision agriculture tools and even get access to new markets worldwide.

Although a quarter of a billion dollars is a huge first step to offering everyone access to broadband, it will take additional efforts on all fronts, along with some “out of the box” thinking to connect all Ohioans. That could include the formation of public-private partnerships to help plan, fund, regulate and maintain high-speed internet serving middle mile and last mile customers. It could be local government, education and businesses collaborating to increase demand for rural areas. Even nontraditional providers, like electric and telecommunications cooperatives could deploy broadband service.

The internet is no longer a luxury item. Many of us rely on connectivity to maintain the health of our families, our communities and society as a whole, making it a necessity for all Ohioans, including rural areas.

Photo: Nao Triponez from Pexels
Labor has always been an issue, mainly because we are a seasonal operation. So that's a challenge finding somebody who only wants to work three months out of a year, sometimes up to six months.
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Mandy Way

Way Farms

Farm Labor Resources
I appreciate the benefit of having a strong voice in my corner. The extras that are included in membership are wonderful, but I'm a member because of the positive impact to my local and state agricultural communities.
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Ernie Welch

Van Wert County Farm Bureau

Strong communities
I see the value and need to be engaged in the community I live in, to be a part of the decision-making process and to volunteer with organizations that help make our community better.
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Matt Aultman

Darke County Farm Bureau

Leadership development
Farm Bureau involvement has taught me how to grow my professional and leadership experience outside of the workforce and how to do that in a community-centric way.
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Jaclyn De Candio

Clark County Farm Bureau

Young Ag Professionals program
With not growing up on a farm, I’d say I was a late bloomer to agriculture. I feel so fortunate that I found the agriculture industry. There are so many opportunities for growth.
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Jenna Gregorich

Coshocton County Farm Bureau

Growing our Generation
Knowing that horticulture is under the agriculture umbrella and having Farm Bureau supporting horticulture like it does the rest of ag is very important.
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Jared Hughes

Groovy Plants Ranch

Groovy Plants Ranch
If it wasn't for Farm Bureau, I personally, along with many others, would not have had the opportunity to meet with our representatives face to face in Washington.
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Austin Heil

Hardin County Farm Bureau

Washington, D.C. Leadership Experience
So many of the issues that OFBF and its members are advocating for are important to all Ohioans. I look at OFBF as an agricultural watchdog advocating for farmers and rural communities across Ohio.
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Mary Smallsreed

Trumbull County Farm Bureau

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