The Ohio Broadband Expansion Program Authority voted to accept 114 application challenges during its Friday meeting, leading to 79 applications suspended temporarily pending review and affecting around 212,000 addresses. According to the Department of Development, there were 217 total applications as part of the grant program aimed at expanding broadband service in unserved and underserved areas.
BroadbandOhio Deputy Chief of Grants and Special Projects Amy Elbaor told the authority 463 challenges were received, with 349 of them rejected. Elbaor said further that the challenges fell into three categories of agreed-to, rejected and recommended.
BroadbandOhio Director Peter Voderberg explained that challenged applicants were given the opportunity to amend their application and remove any challenged addresses. Those who did were classified as the “agreed-to” challenges, rendering them moot and leading to the challenge being rejected as well.
The authority also rejected challenges due to lack of sufficient evidence, with all members present voting in favor of the motion. Former legislator Bill Coley asked whether everyone was aware of the guidelines involved. Voderberg said that information was disseminated through an FAQ section, webinar and by answering questions submitted to Broadband Ohio.
The 114 challenges that were accepted result in suspension of the application “in whole or in part,” Voderberg said before the authority’s vote. The staff recommendations were based on sufficient evidence received from challengers, but this did not represent a final determination on those applications.
Applicants will have until Tuesday, March 8 to either provide information validating the addresses are unserved or underserved, or to withdraw them. The authority will consider that evidence in its March meeting on a to-be-announced date and make final rulings. Lack of response will lead to withdrawal of the application, Voderberg added, and this is being made clear to the applicants.
Staff will also be reviewing whether any addresses are duplicated across competing applications. In that event, Voderberg said, the address would be awarded to the higher-scoring application.
A new coalition, Broadband Access Ohio, also officially launched Wednesday with the goal of helping expand high-speed Internet in unserved and underserved areas of the state. Its members include municipalities, townships, associations, educational institutions and other public entities.
“Broadband Access Ohio believes leaders and citizens should support all methods of broadband expansions from private providers to community networks because internet access in Ohio isn’t a one-size fits all technology,” Chairman and Fairlawn Mayor Bill Roth said in a release. “Our communities deserve the flexibility to choose between a variety of options to provide broadband service to those who work and live in our communities.”
“High-quality, high-speed, affordable internet access is essential for Ohio’s growing economy, both globally and locally. We need not only county-wide, but statewide broadband access in order to remain competitive in the global economy,” added Medina County Commissioner Steve Hambley.
Among the 24 founding members are the County Commissioners Association of Ohio; Medina County Board of Commissioners; Summit County; the cities of Athens, Columbus, Dublin, Gahanna, Hilliard, Hudson, Wadsworth and Worthington; and the Mid-Ohio Regional Planning Commission.