Clark County’s project will connect its buildings via the Miami Valley Educational Computer Association, a government-owned network based in Yellow Springs. The network provides internet service to dozens of local school districts and governments, but it doesn’t currently offer services to the public.
Lawson said the Buckeye Institute’s concern is that down the line, governments that build such networks will be tempted to open them to the public and compete with private sector providers.
“Frequently you will find there is a push to expand it,” he said. “That is where we have the bigger concern.”
Broadband expansion was one of the intended uses of ARPA funds in the wake of the COVID pandemic that illustrated how vital internet connectivity is and how many areas remain without it. Many local governments include broadband expansion in their intended ARPA plans, to the tune of millions of dollars locally.
Kent Scarrett, executive director of the Ohio Municipal League, said he doesn’t know how many cities are exploring government-owned networks versus public-private partnerships, but said both should be options for cities based on their needs.
“There are areas of the state where the competition for broadband is not very high, or there isn’t even some major players that would provide the connectivity,” he said.
Scarrett said this means that some areas are exploring treating broadband as a public utility to address this unmet need. He said the pandemic and ways our society adapted to it make it more important than ever for local leaders to help their residents and businesses have access to affordable, reliable, high-speed internet.
“It’s certainly one of the highest priorities of our communities, is ensuring broadband connectivity,” he said.