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The Buckeye Institute: Ohio Needs to Expand High-Speed Internet Service to Underserved Areas

May 04, 2020

Columbus, OH – In a new policy memo, Policy Solutions for the Pandemic: Expanding Broadband to Underserved Areas (see full text below or download a PDF), The Buckeye Institute calls on Ohio to offer targeted state grants to deploy high-speed broadband service to underserved areas of the state. 

“The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted our essential need to ‘stay connected’ for work, education, and medical care. And while many Ohioans have multiple broadband providers, many across the state do not,” said Greg R. Lawson, research fellow at The Buckeye Institute. “To help these Ohioans, policymakers should develop a grant program to help communities access effective high-speed internet that avoids costly government-owned networks. And, these grants should be offset by other spending cuts in the state budget and should focus on helping communities that have not received other government assistance to build broadband networks.”

Ohio has adopted many of Buckeye’s policy recommendations to boost the state’s health care system and support Ohio’s workers, small businesses, and economy including:

  • Increasing telehealth access and monitoring;
  • Extending universal recognition of out-of-state medical licenses to doctors and physician assistants;
  • Extending universal recognition of out-of-state medical licenses to nurses;
  • Permitting pharmacists to test for COVID-19;
  • Enlisting medical and nursing students to support doctors and nurses fighting COVID-19;
  • Beginning to eliminate unnecessary budget commitments;
  • Instituting a hiring freeze in state government; and
  • Allowing establishments with an existing liquor permit to sell and deliver alcohol on carryout menus. 

The Buckeye Institute’s policy solutions that policymakers can take to ensure Ohio and the country are ready to fight and recover from the pandemic can be found at: www.BuckeyeInstitute.org/Policy-Solutions-for-the-Pandemic.

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Policy Solutions for the Pandemic
Expanding Broadband to Underserved Areas

By Greg R. Lawson
May 4, 2020

The Buckeye Institute’s Recommendation
Ohio should quickly offer targeted state grants to deploy high-speed broadband service in underserved areas to ensure adequate internet access for online distance learning, telehealth, and remote telework. Government entities, however, should not construct their own broadband networks.

Background
As the COVID-19 pandemic compels millions of Ohioans to study, work, and remain at home, The Buckeye Institute has suggested several policy solutions for dealing with the current crisis and preparing for the next one. We have recommended expanding Ohio’s telehealth services for routine medical care and bolstering education savings accounts to help families afford the unanticipated costs of distance learning online for their now “home schooled” children. Both recommendations require high-speed broadband internet access. Many Ohioans have multiple broadband providers offering such service, but many across the state still do not and, in the COVID-19 era, they face even greater risk of being left behind. 

Expanding broadband access correctly and with the right mechanism has been and remains critical. 

First, state and local governments should not develop their own government-owned networks or GONs. As we explained in Broadband “GON” Wrong: Remembering Why Government-Owned Broadband Networks Are Bad for Taxpayers, GONs generally provide poor quality service and pass along opaque and high costs to taxpayers—costs that Ohio and its taxpayers can ill-afford as tax revenues sharply decline in the wake of the pandemic. Now is no time for GONs.

Fortunately, there are better ways to expand broadband and Ohio has already taken smart steps in the right direction. At the end of 2019, Governor DeWine’s Administration unveiled a broadband strategy for the state to be a partner in coordinating new or existing high-speed internet expansion efforts. To be successful, Ohio should deploy targeted grants that close the gap between what commercial service providers can cost-effectively spend to develop a network and the full cost of providing the “last mile” to underserved communities. The grants should be offset by spending reductions elsewhere in the state budget and focus exclusively on helping communities that have not already received other government assistance to build broadband networks.

Conclusion
The COVID-19 crisis has highlighted the essential need to “stay connected.” Ohio should develop a limited, strategic grant program to help non-serviced communities access effective high-speed broadband to support online education-, health-, and work-related services.

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