Lt. Gov. Jon Husted voices hope Ohio lawmakers will restore broadband funding and stop the proposed ban on local programs

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COLUMBUS, Ohio – Lt. Governor Jon Husted spoke out Tuesday against the Ohio Senate Republicans’ attempt to effectively ban urban high-speed Internet programming in the state and cut $ 190 million from the state’s broadband budget.

But suburban Columbus Republican Husted said in an interview that he is “optimistic” that both Senate moves will be reversed in the next two weeks as House and Senate negotiators work out a final budget agreement, to be submitted to Governor Mike DeWine.

“We have a lot of momentum in Ohio building high-speed Internet services,” said Husted. “But when the version of this bill as it stands is passed, all of that will be dead.”

Under the language, which was added to the draft budget as part of a massive Senate change, the 30 or so municipal broadband programs in Ohio, including cities like Fairlawn, Hudson, Medina, and Wadsworth, are banned from operating as long as they are privately owned Company operating in the area – as in most if not all cities. The Senate’s proposal would also prohibit municipalities from accepting federal funds to start a broadband program.

DeWine’s original budget included $ 250 million in government grants to build broadband in underserved areas such as Southeast Ohio. The Ohio House cut that down to $ 190 million before the Senate cut funding in its version of the budget overall. However, the legislature has passed a separate bill that provides for the following: $ 20 million in grants.

Senate GOP spokesman John Fortney said the Senate removed the money and put the municipal restrictions in place for three reasons: 1) To see how effective the $ 20 million would be before breaking $ 190 million Approved, 2) opposition to governments entering the telecommunications market, and 3) concerns about cities having the resources or expertise to run a long-term broadband program.

Husted disagreed with each of these three arguments. He said initiatives such as a telemedicine pilot in Monroe County have shown government grants to successfully improve high-speed Internet access.

“There is no one who denies these were successful projects,” said Husted. “All we have to do is expand it to the millions of people who don’t have access.”

Regarding cities competing with telecommunications companies, Husted said he also doesn’t want government interference where the private sector has already resolved the problem. But he said in places like East Cleveland, where a public-private partnership was formed to bring internet to 2,000 families, “nobody solved the problem”.

“We’re not talking about putting high-speed Internet in competition with the private sector,” said Husted. “We’re talking about installing high-speed Internet where the private sector is not present and not offering any services.”

Husted said the governor’s office has so far had “good dialogue” with Senate and House leadership.

“I am optimistic that we will solve these problems,” he said. “As soon as we educate people about the consequences, we hope we can find a solution.”

The legislature has until the end of the month to adopt a final version of the budget. DeWine spokesman Dan Tierney declined to comment when asked if the governor would use his veto to remove Senate language from urban broadband programs should that language remain in the final bill.

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