LOGAN — The state has officially launched incentives for broadband providers to supply internet in “unserved” areas.

Gov. DeWine’s office announced Monday that the Ohio Residential Broadband Expansion Grant program would begin accepting applications online starting that day.

Funded by the state’s 2022-2023 budget and created by House Bill 2, $250 million in grants is set aside for internet service providers to work on furnishing broadband to those who have gone without it.

According to a press release from DeWine’s office, projects are intended to provide internet service access of at the speeds of at least 25 megabits per second download and three megabits per second upload to residents in “unserved” areas, meaning places that do not already have internet access by means of a retail wireline or wireless broadband service that delivers internet access at speeds of at least 10 megabits per second.

According to a previous Logan Daily News report, the grant program doesn’t fund the entirety of the expenses providers incur when installing internet; it just covers the costs of “last mile” construction. All costs and needs must be proved in the grant application, and providers are not limited to the means by which they supply internet.

Co-sponsor of HB 2 and Hocking County’s state representative Brian Stewart (R-Asheville) has previously offered as an example of “last mile” construction an instance in which “it becomes cost-prohibitive for the provider or land owner to run a line to serve one customer.”

Many people in Stewart’s district (Ohio House District 78) — composed of Fairfield, Hocking, Morgan and Pickaway counties and parts of Athens and Muskingum counties — are unserved, Stewart said in March.

According to the Indicators of Broadband Need map by the United States Department of Commerce and the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), 17.6% of Hocking County households do not have internet access. Approximately 1 million Ohioans are estimated to lack access to broadband internet, according to DeWine’s office.

HB 2, which Gov. DeWine signed in May, also allows county commissioners to request the Ohio Development Services Agency (DSA) to solicit applications from broadband providers for program grants under the Ohio Residential Broadband Expansion Grant Program.

The Logan Daily News inquired by email to the Hocking County Board of Commissioners as to whether or not they were going to solicit projects via the DSA; however, the board did not respond in time for publication.

Applications are open until the end of business day on Nov. 8. Applications will be reviewed by the Ohio Department of Development and BroadbandOhio, an office the DeWine-Husted Administration created in March 2020.

From there, projects deemed eligible will be sent to the five-person board for approval and funding. Also created by HB2, the Broadband Expansion Program Authority will oversee grant distribution.

The Logan Daily News was unable to ascertain who, if anyone, has been appointed to the board; Ohio Senate Majority Caucus Director of Communications John Fortney said in an email that the Senate has not yet made its appointment.

According to a May report by the Portsmouth Daily Times, the authority board was to be composed of the Ohio DSA Director (Lydia Mihalik) and Director of InnovateOhio (Lt. Gov. Jon Husted) – or their designees – and three appointed members; all board members are to serve four-year terms with possible reappointments. Speaker of the House Bob Cupp, R-Lima, Senate President Matt Huffman, R-Lima, and Gov. DeWine were to make the appointments.

According to a February Fiscal Note & Local Impact Statement by the Ohio Legislative Service Commission, monthly stipends for the board members could amount to a total of $25,000 per year for the three appointed members. Members will also be compensated for necessary expenses.

Stewart told The Logan Daily News last Friday that he sees HB 2’s success as a credit to the DeWine administration. The bill was passed with an emergency clause for a reason, he said.

“So we passed the program in spring and money was added (to) the (state) budget in June,” Stewart said. “We’ve worked on rules since March or April — months are flying by now. What we’ve heard for years in this district, and certainly over the last 18 months across the state, (is), we can’t afford to wait anymore. Time is of the essence. We’ve got to get these projects moving.”

Stewart said his hope is that companies take advantage of the grant program and the benefits it offers to serve homes in his district, including Hocking County. He also said that when projects begin, it will be of the utmost importance to make sure internet providers meet standards.

“We had the application go out in record-time,” he said. “This certainly is not the end. The number one priority for this district, I believe, is making sure we’re competing (economically) and have equal opportunity with the rest of the state.”

Ultimately, the program goes beyond the district it has partial origins in.

“Our goal is to get every Ohioan connected to the internet,” Stewart said.

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