Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine and Lt. Gov. Jon Husted announced that the Ohio Residential Broadband Expansion Grant program will begin accepting applications online starting Monday.

Funded as part of Ohio’s 2022-2023 operating budget, the program will provide $250 million in grants to internet service providers for the construction of broadband projects that improve high-speed internet access in unserved and underserved areas of Ohio, according to a release.

Projects will provide service access of at least 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload to residents in areas that do not have a provider that can supply service at this speed, the release said.

Athens County is an area of Ohio that has “unserved” portions, meaning some do not have internet access by means of a retail wireline or wireless broadband service that delivers internet access at speeds of at least 10 megabits per second.

“This program is a key investment in Ohio’s future as we work toward eliminating the digital divide in our state,” DeWine said in a statement. “Connecting our rural and underserved areas with reliable internet service will help bring these communities up to speed with the rest of the state and will be a driving force for economic growth.”

The Ohio Residential Broadband Expansion Grant program, which was established in House Bill 2 sponsored by Rep. Rick Carfagna, R-Genoa Township, and Rep. Brian Stewart, R-Asheville, is a key component of the DeWine-Husted Administration’s comprehensive Broadband Strategy that aims to build a high-tech broadband network throughout the state, the release said.

Ohio Rep. Jay Edwards, R-Nelsonville, was a cosponsor for the legislation. He previously told The Athens Messenger via text that he believed the new law would benefit professionals, schools, parents and “frankly all Ohioans.”

“Access to information means access to opportunity,” Edwards said via text. “It’s a top issue for Southeast Ohio and this legislation will help move us forward.”

In a statement to an Ohio House Committee, Stewart praised the legislation’s ability to help Ohioans.

“The time has come for providers to sharpen their pencils and put forth their best effort and best technologies to build out their networks,” Stewart said. “From speaking to my constituents, small businesses, large business, schools, and community organizations, and even to unserved members of my own family, I am confident that the deployment of broadband infrastructure to any of the numerous Ohioans left behind will be deeply meaningful and enhance their quality of life.”

Based on currently available information, 300,000 households in Ohio, representing approximately 1 million Ohioans, are estimated to lack access to broadband internet.

“This grant program is designed to help our local private and public sector partners expand high-speed, affordable internet in areas of Ohio that are presently underserved,” said Lt. Governor Jon Husted. “To be a part of the modern economy, education and healthcare systems, you need to have access to reliable internet, and this effort aims to close the digital divide.”

Internet Service Providers can apply online from Sept. 6, 2021, until Nov. 8, 2021, at 5 p.m. Applications will be reviewed by the Ohio Department of Development and BroadbandOhio, which was created by the DeWine-Husted Administration in March 2020 to be the point of contact for all broadband projects in Ohio.

Eligible applications will be sent to the Ohio Broadband Expansion Program Authority for approval and funding.

More information on the new Ohio Residential Broadband Expansion Grant is available on the Broadband.Ohio.Gov.

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