FCC working to make Internet available to all Ohioans

FCC to spend $1.8M to help expand broadband in rural Ohio

About 397,000 Ohioans, including more than 14,000 in the Miami Valley, still lack access to high-speed Internet, which increasingly plays a vital role in applying for jobs, starting small businesses and connecting small towns to the global marketplace, according to report released Tuesday by the Federal Communications Commission.

Although broadband access is growing in Ohio, the FCC said it is not being deployed quickly enough, and residents in some rural parts of the state remain on the wrong side of the digital divide.

“Communities where there is not good access tend to be left out,” said Mark Wigfield, FCC spokesman.

The FCC said it plans to spend $115 million, including at least $1.8 million in Ohio, to help pay for Internet providers to expand broadband into rural America. But experts remain concerned about how soon that expansion will occur, and they also fear many Ohioans will not take advantage of access to high-speed Internet.

Of the 397,000 Ohioans without broadband access, 356,000 live in rural areas, according to the FCC report, which is based on June 2011 data. About 14 percent of rural areas in Ohio lacked broadband access, compared to 0.5 percent of urban areas. Broadband service is defined as speeds of 4 megabits per second or faster for downloads, and at least 1 megabit per second for uploads, the FCC said.

Between 99.2 to 99.9 percent of households in Butler, Champaign, Greene, Miami, Montgomery and Warren counties have broadband access, according April data from Connect Ohio, a nonprofit organization that conducts broadband and technology research for the state. A lack of access affects about 14,350 of residents in the seven-county region, the FCC said.

Experts said people without broadband Internet cannot search and apply for many jobs; fill out many types of online forms; download documents and programs; take online classes or training; pay bills; receive remote medical care; manage their bank accounts and download videos.

Internet providers often cannot afford to expand broadband coverage into some rural communities, because the return would be not worth the investment, said Amanda Murphy, spokeswoman with Connect Ohio.

But Murphy said the state will someday soon have full broadband coverage, because the FCC is providing subsidies to Internet providers to expand access.

The FCC announced in July that through its Connect America Fund it will spend $115 million to expand broadband into rural U.S. communities. In the first phase, the FCC said it will spend $1.8 million to help expand broadband in 12 counties in Ohio.

Although broadband coverage is about 98 percent in Ohio, adoption of the technology still lags behind deployment.

In a Sept. 5 story, the Dayton Daily News reported that one in four Miami Valley residents do not have high-speed Internet in their homes, and Murphy said about 33 percent of homes in Ohio do not have subscriptions to broadband services.

Some residents do not have broadband Internet in their homes, because they believe they do not need it. Other people do not own a computer, while some Ohioans say the service is too expensive.

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