Internet access is essential


It’s beyond comprehension, at least for me, as to why the Ohio Senate would kill all broadband-related funding after approval by the Ohio House and the Ohio governor. One might conclude that there are some luddites in the legislature who are determined to put the brakes on Ohio’s future out of some nostalgia for being in the dark or for blind loyalty to corporate chieftains at Spectrum.

Like electricity and the telephone, it is only inevitable that Ohio will recognize the Internet as a public utility, under the purview of PUCO. Ten years from now people will look back and say, “Wasn’t it amazing that 10 years ago Spectrum was allowed to deny service in rural areas because it was too costly to run fiber optics to Ohio citizens in rural areas.” Just like today we look back and say, “Wasn’t it amazing that in the past electric companies and telephone companies denied services to rural citizens because there weren’t nice profits in it.”

Come on politicos, today businesses are allowing or even insisting that workers work remotely, when at the same time people are migrating from urban areas looking for more peaceful lifestyles in increasingly remote working environments. Are we ready for this? Communities like Highland County want our young people to stay here or come back here after technical college or university. Do we really think they’ll come back to a technical environment without highspeed bandwidth in their homes or places of business? Farming today has no resemblance to the Middle Ages, it’s a highly technical business environment.

Near and dear to my heart is the issue raised by Ohio AARP Director Holly Holtzen recently in the Columbus Dispatch. She said, “Broadband needs increase as Ohioans age.”

We all seem to get how important broadband is for school children and virtual learning, but broadband is a public health service to seniors who frequently suffer from isolation, and it also is an economic tool for seniors whose spending is essential to the U.S. and Ohio economies as their online purchases feed state and local tax revenues. Perhaps most important, as our population ages, telehealth becomes an increasingly central piece to our public health system. Without broadband, it doesn’t exist, except for those seniors living in urban areas. Do our legislators really want our seniors, our rising generation, and our farmers to be second-class citizens?

Tom Reid of the Buckeye Hills Regional Council representing eight Appalachian counties puts it frankly: “If we don’t do it, rural America is second class forever.”

I’ve written before about municipalities and townships grabbing the bull by the horns and doing the broadband expansion locally, but now the Ohio Senate has throttled municipal broadband programs fearing that these local programs would compete with the mega providers, putting a hold on $190 million in proposed state funding for underserved areas of the state. The Senate language would also keep municipalities from accepting any federal money to initiate broadband programs.

Point of fact. Spectrum’s revenues in 2019 were $46 billion with earnings of $16.9 billion. All we’re asking for is an easy partnership with our electrical cooperatives to attach some cable to the already in place utility poles. It would cost Spectrum a decimal place in its earnings.

Franklin Roosevelt said way back in the 1930s: “The liberty of a democracy is not safe if its business systems do not provide employment and produce and distribute goods in such a way as to sustain an acceptable standard of living.” True then, true now.

Access to the Internet today is essential to a standard of living that allows for the success and well being of our citizens. Rural America can’t thrive and compete in its own nation if it is obstructed by a great digital divide.

When it comes to essential public utilities, it’s time for our legislators to start looking out for the people they represent and not render their constituents second fiddle behind multi-billion dollar corporations and their shareholders.

I’m not trying to beat a horse to death on this subject, but it is a life-altering issue for places like Highland County that are trying to position themselves for the future.

Bill Sims is a Hillsboro resident, retired president of the Denver Council on Foreign Relations, an author and runs a small farm in Berrysville with his wife. He is a former educator, executive and foundation president.

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