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Husted confident Legislature will restore internet grant money

YOUNGSTOWN — Lt. Gov. Jon Husted said he’s confident the Ohio Senate, which eliminated Gov. Mike DeWine’s proposal to provide $250 million in grants for broadband internet, will restore all of it when a state budget is approved by next week.

When asked why he was so sure the Senate, which had no money for broadband expansion, would fully fund DeWine’s request, Husted said: “Because there’s been a lot of voices from around the state who’ve called and talked to their senators and helped to educate them on why it’s so important.”

He added: “I think the Legislature is very receptive to these changes. Gov. DeWine and I have expressed those concerns so I think there’s a growing level of understanding of the need and ultimately, the Legislature will, I hope, believe, that they’ll restore the funding.”

Husted was in Youngstown on Wednesday to talk to local business officials about broadband at the Eastgate Regional Council of Governments office, and then toured M7 Technologies.

The House version of the budget cut DeWine’s proposal to $190 million.

Husted said he expects the House and Senate, which are both controlled by his fellow Republicans, to change its position and fund broadband at $250 million.

The two legislative bodies have to reconcile differences in the budget by June 30.

Asked how devastating would it be to the state to not have the broadband funding, Husted said: “It would make Ohio a backwards-looking state if we don’t get this done. Failure is not an option on this one. We’re going to stay the course until we get this done.”

DeWine signed into law a bill in May that will provide $20 million to improve broadband internet access to unserved or underserved areas of the state. The law targets households where it remains cost-prohibitive to extend service. It focuses funding on 37 “distressed counties,” including Mahoning, Trumbull and Columbiana.

But DeWine and Husted say much more is needed.

“Many people can’t participate in normal modern life without the internet, access to high-speed internet, and I see hundreds of thousands of people in entire communities left out of the modern economy,” Husted said.

There are about 1 million Ohioans living in 300,000 households with no high-speed internet options, according to the DeWine administration.

LOCAL PROPOSAL

At Wednesday’s meeting at Eastgate, Jim Kinnick, the agency’s executive director, discussed a proposal to install a high-speed fiber line along the nearly 100 miles of state Route 11 through Mahoning, Trumbull, Columbiana and Ashtabula counties. The cost is $15 million. It’s reduced to $12 million if Columbiana isn’t included.

The project would serve more than 620,000 people and provide broadband internet access to the underserved throughout Appalachia in the four counties, Kinnick said.

There are sections of the four counties — including parts of northern Trumbull and southern Mahoning — with no broadband coverage and there are several areas with slow coverage, he said.

A feasibility study showed that among communities in Ohio with populations of more than 5,000, Youngstown had the second-worst broadband accessibility largely because of cost — with Warren being fifth and Niles at 32nd.

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