While most Ohioans have access to high-speed internet, nearly a million still don’t have access to fast, reliable broadband services at home, program analysts C. William Swank said. in rural-urban policy from the Ohio State University College of Food, Agricultural, and Environmental Sciences (CFAES).
“This unserved population lives largely in the less populated rural parts of the state where it is prohibitively expensive for Internet service providers to expand service,” said Mark Partridge, president and professor at CFAES. Department of Agricultural, Environmental and Development Economics. The Swank Program, housed in the department, conducts research, teaching, and outreach within the college.
An April report released by Swank Program researchers indicates that there is significant economic benefit to Ohio investing in expanding and improving broadband coverage in unserved areas, as well as to make the service more affordable and to ensure that users have access to adequate devices to use the Internet for their needs.
Broadband Internet services are those that meet the Federal Communications Commission’s current minimum speeds of 25 megabits per second download and 3 megabits per second upload. But those definitions of “high speed” are woefully outdated and need to be updated by the government, Partridge said.
“When you compare Ohio — in which 12 percent of the population doesn’t have broadband access — to its neighbors, there are considerable differences,” he said. “For example, more than 50% of West Virginians lack access to broadband compared to just 6.5% of New Yorkers, though West Virginia is uniformly inhibited by difficult terrain. “
Partridge said Ohio’s relative performance is poor, with some states achieving higher broadband penetration, such as Illinois at 90.3% and New York at 93.5%, while other states s fare considerably worse than Ohio, such as West Virginia at 49.8% and Kentucky at 81.4%.
“The past few years have seen a rapid transformation in broadband usage across America, with nearly every aspect of life now entirely dependent on digital technology,” Partridge said. “Streaming services such as Netflix and Hulu have increased their prevalence in our daily lives, while telehealth and telecommuting options have exploded, with the former now a viable option for rural communities lacking healthcare providers and the second permeating almost all industries.
“And the COVID-19 pandemic has only exacerbated the problem, as accelerated demands for high-speed internet amid lockdowns in the spring of 2020 forced tens of millions of students to learn virtually and much of the American workforce to work remotely. ”
This comes as the federal government this month announced a major partnership with 20 internet service providers to increase their internet speeds or reduce the price of their services for income-eligible households across the country. The move is part of the Federal Communications Commission’s Affordable Connectivity Program, finalized in November 2021, which provides a monthly subsidy to cover the cost some consumers pay for internet service.
The Swank Report indicates that further bridging the digital divide and expanding and improving access to underserved areas of Ohio will likely require:
- Revised the Federal Communications Commission’s broadband definition from 25 megabits per second download and 3 megabits per second upload to 100 megabits per second upload and 10 megabits per second upload. Current speed does not reflect speeds required for proper use, and required speeds are likely to increase with technology changes and new applications.
- Policymakers must not only consider the physical infrastructure needed for high speeds, such as the fiber optic cables that deliver broadband, but also improve competition, lower prices, and improve quality by increasing the number of providers Internet services for the public, especially in currently underserved areas. areas.
- More competition and in some cases local communities create their own broadband provider if private markets are unable to provide the necessary competition.
- Matching broadband investments with other workforce training programs that increase skill levels in regions and lagging investments, and using federal and state funds to provide adequate devices for Internet use, including in school districts with a large proportion of students without home broadband Internet access.
- Increased focus on providing adequate devices such as laptops and tablets to access the internet. Even if one has access to affordable broadband, if they only use a smartphone, they cannot participate in many activities such as joint online projects or take online courses such as chemistry .
- Increased focus on affordability over access, as 18% of households nationwide still lack access, leaving a large portion of the population out of modern society and the modern workplace .
The 2022 analysis, Finding the Missing Spots: An Update on Ohio’s Broadband Policyhas 53 pages and can be downloaded for free at go.osu.edu/missingdots.