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InnovateOhio, ODOT Issue Statewide Broadband Report

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(COLUMBUS, Ohio) – InnovateOhio, in partnership with the Ohio Department of Transportation (ODOT), today issued a statewide broadband access report. The report is a compilation of responses the state received to the broadband request for information (RFI) as well as individual stakeholder interviews. The initial RFI on broadband expansion was issued on June 20, 2019.

“My administration is committed to making sure broadband is a part of our overall infrastructure strategy,” said Governor DeWine. “This report provides interesting insight into opportunities Ohio can take advantage of as we develop plans to improve and expand broadband across the state.”

“We received a lot of very helpful feedback as part of this process, which we can now use as we craft a statewide broadband strategy,” said Lt. Governor Jon Husted, who serves as Director of InnovateOhio. “Expanding access to and quality of broadband in our state is a quality of life issue, an economic issue, and a health and safety issue, which is why our administration is determined to get our strategy right.”

The RFI was an exploratory effort that considered opening the state’s assets, including the rights of way along ODOT-maintained state highways, to broadband providers. The RFI asked for input on which assets companies would be interested in utilizing, and how they might reach the goals of expanding broadband into underserved areas of the state.  Based on currently available information, it is believed that 300,000 households in Ohio, representing around 1 million Ohioans, lack access to high-speed internet.

The key finding of the report is that the rights-of-way along state-owned interstate highways hold considerable value that can be leveraged in order to expand broadband.  However, there is no silver bullet and a variety of strategies should be employed to make sure every Ohioan has access to high-speed internet.

“Whether it’s connecting children to information at school or connecting smart vehicles to infrastructure, access to broadband is vital in the 21st Century,” said ODOT Director Dr. Jack Marchbanks. “ODOT has always played a role in helping connect our state and this is just another opportunity to do that.”

A committee was convened to review responses to the RFI, which included representatives from ODOT, the Development Services Agency (DSA), JobsOhio, the Department of Administrative Services (DAS), the Ohio Turnpike Commission, the Ohio Academic Resources Network (OARNet), and the Governor’s Office.

The RFI received 24 respondents, and of those, the committee arranged eight follow-up, fact-finding meetings. The committee found:

Positives Identified:

  • Many providers and consumer-facing companies are investing heavily in and densifying their networks to the benefit of Ohioans.
  • New companies are establishing a presence in Ohio.
  • New partnerships are beginning to emerge in order to utilize new technology to provide greater broadband internet access.

Challenges Identified:

  • In the past, Ohio has not achieved its fair share of Connect America Funds (CAF), which are awarded by the FCC because, thus far, the state has not produced a statewide broadband strategy.
  • Many of the RFI respondents identified outdated tax codes that would inhibit and/or discourage companies from wanting to partner with Ohio.
  • General “red tape” issues, such as a lack of statewide standard on placing utility lines beneath railroad crossings, which cause costly time and financial burdens.

Moving forward, InnovateOhio, under the leadership of Lt. Governor Husted, will work with ODOT and other partner agencies to develop the statewide broadband strategy with a particular focus on addressing the challenges identified by today’s report. The goals of this process are:

  1. Provide broadband coverage to rural and underserved communities.
  2. Create a robust, world-class network across the State of Ohio.
  3. Enable next-generation transportation capabilities, including autonomous vehicles, smart roadways and transportation systems, and creation of an integrated data exchange for transportation users, partners, developers, and providers.
  4. Drive economic and workforce development statewide.
  5. Obtain revenue that can be applied to future projects, capitalizing on the value of the rights-of-way in economically-desirable locations in order to install fiber and telecommunications equipment to meet connectivity objectives in areas that are less economically-desirable.

The statewide broadband strategy is expected to be complete by early 2020. A full copy of  today’s report , as well as the individual responses to the RFI are both available online.