While the majority of Ohioans have access to fast, reliable broadband internet service in their homes, some 1 million others do not, said an analyst with the C. William Swank Program in Rural-Urban Policy at The Ohio State University.
“This unserved population largely lives in less populated rural regions of the state where it is prohibitively expensive for internet service providers to extend service,” said Mark Partridge, chair of the Swank program and professor in Ohio State’s Department of Agricultural, Environmental, and Development Economics. The Swank program, housed in the department, conducts research, teaching and outreach within CFAES.
A recent report released by researchers with the Swank program says there is a strong economic benefit for Ohio to invest in expanding broadband coverage to unserved areas.
Broadband Internet services are those that meet the Federal Communications Commission’s minimum speeds of 25 megabits per second for downloading and 3 megabits per second for uploading. As it now stands, the worst Internet speeds are in rural areas in 29 states, including Ohio, according to a 2016 FCC report.
“Significant economic benefits are produced when households are able to access a broader range of products and services at lower prices,” Partridge writes. “Based on economists’ estimates of the average consumer benefit of broadband access between $1,500 to $2,200 per year, we conservatively estimate that reaching full broadband coverage today would generate between $1 billion and $2 billion in economic benefits over the next 15 years.”
This, as the federal government last month allocated $50 billion to rural infrastructure. The allocation will allow states, including Ohio, to spend as much as 100 percent of that funding on improving rural broadband access, according to a White House news release.
The Swank report says bridging the digital divide and extending access to underserved areas of Ohio will likely require a focused state effort, including:
- Establishing a state broadband office to coordinate the many state agencies that contribute to broadband utilization and expansion.
- Adopting a state “dig once” policy to leverage non-broadband infrastructure projects and reduce the costs of broadband expansion.
- Strengthening public-private partnerships so that public infrastructure can be effectively used to expand broadband access without creating anti-competitive conditions.
- Establishing a broadband investment fund to finance infrastructure required to reach unserved populations.
- Promoting the development of local government policies that facilitate last-mile broadband provisions.
The 2017 analysis, Connecting the Dots of Ohio’s Broadband Policy, is 30 pages and available to download free at go.osu.edu/ConnectingTheDots.