This article ran in the Ohio Municipal League’s Magazine, Cities and Villages :
Broadband Access Ohio:
Connecting Ohioans One Municipality at a Time
Communities deserve the flexibility to offer internet access programs that meet the needs of their citizens and encourage economic development. High-speed, high quality internet access isn’t just a want; it’s a necessity. For millions of Ohio citizens, students and businesses, high-speed internet access is the path to a better life and economic growth. In late 2021 several Ohio municipalities came together and acknowledged their need to have a collective voice at the state level to advocate on behalf of these citizens.
This voice became Broadband Access Ohio, the leading organization promoting community broadband and public-private partnerships. Broadband Access Ohio (BAO) knows these initiatives provide Ohio citizens, communities, and businesses with access to the high-quality, high-speed internet needed to thrive in an ever-connected world.
With over 35 members, the coalition represents a broad spectrum of public entities and public-private partnerships across the state that are committed to investing in high-speed internet access for all. Members of Broadband Access Ohio include cities such as Columbus, Cincinnati and Athens as well as organizations including County Commissioners Association of Ohio, Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission, The Management Council of the Ohio Education Computer Network and Buckeye Hills Regional Council.
Unfortunately, Ohio is ranked 37th in the nation for connectivity and internet access remains an issue across the entire state. For more than 300,000 households in Ohio representing close to one million Ohioans, a lack of access to high-speed internet is a critical barrier.
To close this gap, over 30 Ohio communities host broadband networks. These community networks are filling vital roles in providing connectivity to our schools, hospitals, and public safety services. They are open to citizens as a way to ensure residents and businesses have high-speed and reliable broadband service.
For many of the coalition members, the community established a public-private partnership, providing and facilitating the installation of infrastructure allowing private internet providers to offer service to the area. Internet infrastructure is as important as utilities such as roads and water in connecting our communities.
Ohio municipalities need a variety of options to adequately provide broadband service to those who work and live in their communities. Communities should not have their hands tied when they realize the necessary service is not available for their constituents, and should have the option to provide essential internet access to their residents and businesses.
There are several members who do not host their own service, but are there to learn and connect. Broadband Access Ohio has monthly virtual meetings (and a few in-person meetings per year) where members hear from a leader in the space as well as the opportunity to discuss their own current issues and troubleshoot with other members. This flowing exchange of information is one of the strongest benefits of the organization. Communities know they are not alone in their goal to connect their people.
Despite a brighter light being shined on these issues, our work is increasingly needed. That’s why BAO is active throughout the year; meeting with legislators, hosting informational sessions and through media opportunities. The goal will always be to connect as many Ohioans as possible and ensure that all Ohio communities have what they need to survive and thrive in our evolving world.