Ohio State report: Ohio has a long way to go to meet broadband needs

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Despite rapid increase in demand for broadband in the U.S. over the last few years, about 1.4 million Ohioans still lack access to reliable high-speed internet, according to a recent policy brief by Ohio State University’s C. William Swank Program in Rural-Urban Policy.

The state has made progress on broadband in the last few years. That progress includes a statewide broadband office and strategy, and more funding through state and federal programs.

But, the brief authors said, the state still has a long way to go to fully address Ohio’s broadband needs.

“Ohio is pretty typical in that they’re making steps, but they’re insufficient to close the gap,” Mark Partridge, chair of the program and one of the brief authors, told Farm and Dairy.


In the brief, the authors suggested the Federal Communications Commission should update its definition of broadband to be 100 mbps download and 10 mbps upload speeds, to better reflect the speeds people need. The current definition is 25 mbps download and 3 mbps upload speeds.

“That’s woefully too slow for what people are doing now,” Partridge said. For a household with two remote workers who rely on video conferencing, like Zoom, that likely won’t be fast enough, especially if there are also children at home doing remote school. But any new definition could become outdated fairly quickly, as technology advances.

The brief authors suggested rather than defining broadband based on a specific speed, the FCC could define it based on whether it allows people to do certain tasks, such as joining a Zoom call with a certain number of other attendees.

One of the big challenges for faster, affordable internet access is a lack of true competition in many areas. The authors suggested the FCC could add regulations to promote more competition. They also recommended local governments consider investing in their own internet service to help provide competition.

Broadband is more expensive in the U.S. than in other countries including France and China. And other countries, including China, South Korea, Norway and Sweden, also had much faster download speeds. The U.S. ranked ninth out of 41 countries for download speeds as of February, down four spots from the year before. It ranked 22nd out of 41 for mobile network speeds.

“Overall, countries with strict regulatory environments have less expensive and better internet service,” the brief authors wrote.

Partridge said even a few decades ago, the looser regulations in the U.S. may have been helping companies provide faster and cheaper service. But because so many companies have merged, leading to consolidation in the market and less competition, that isn’t necessarily the case now.

Finally, the brief authors suggested policy makers should pair investments in infrastructure with workforce training programs, and funding to make sure students, in particular, have devices to access the internet. These things could help Ohioans take full advantage of broadband access when it is available.

Follow up

The brief is a follow up to a 2017 Swank Program brief. The 2017 brief recommended the state create a broadband office, which Ohio has since done with its BroadbandOhio office, along with creating a statewide broadband strategy.

It also encouraged more funding to support broadband expansion. State and federal governments have invested in broadband in the last few years, with $250 million dedicated to the Ohio Residential Broadband Expansion Grant program, about $170 million coming to Ohio through the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund and another $1 billion from the infrastructure bill.

But statewide fiber internet access could cost around $1.7 billion, and addressing challenges with affording broadband could cost anywhere from $3.9-5.2 billion, the 2022 brief said.


Increased demand for broadband, partly due to the pandemic, has drawn attention to the digital divide in recent years. The brief notes since June 2020, about 13-17% of all office and outpatient healthcare visits have been done over telehealth.

More people have also turned to the internet for both work, in the form of remote work and school, and leisure, in the form of video streaming through things like Netflix and YouTube. Remote work has dropped off to some extent since earlier in the pandemic, but about 11% of employees still worked from home full-time in December of 2021.

Widespread internet access and more remote work opportunities could help rural economies, and could draw more people to live in rural areas.

Partridge said, however, the benefits of remote work — such as no commute, or less commuting — are also benefits in urban areas. Someone may not want to live and work in a large city because the commute is stressful. Remote work can alleviate that stress.

Rural areas do typically have two advantages, he said: lower costs of living, and a lifestyle that some people prefer over living in a city. To help draw people who prefer to live in rural areas, rural communities should aim to provide things like a good quality of life and recreation opportunities for people who live there, in addition to improving broadband service.

“You have to have a critical mass for people to want to live there,” Partridge said. Once an area loses people, schools, grocery stores and more, it can turn into a “downward spiral.” “You want to keep up on this so you don’t start that.”


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