broadbandOhio could be the next state to implement a broadband grant program if a bill that passed the state House of Representatives this week becomes law. The proposed Ohio broadband grants would total up to $50 million annually to cover some of the costs of deploying broadband in unserved or underserved areas, with individual grantees receiving no more than $5 million. Those eligible to receive funding include private businesses, political subdivisions, nonprofit entities and cooperatives.

Among the other states that already have created broadband grant programs are Colorado, New YorkMinnesota  and Massachusetts.

Ohio Broadband Grants
The bi-partisan bill that would create the broadband grants program is known as the Create Ohio Broadband Development Grant Program Bill or House Bill 378. The bill still must pass in the state senate before becoming law.

The proposed Ohio broadband grants program would be larger than those of some states but smaller than those of some others. Colorado’s first broadband funding program awarded close to $20 million, which was followed by a second program with a budget of $2.1 million. New York, meanwhile, allocated $500 million for its broadband grant program.

The Ohio broadband grant program, as proposed, has one important similarity to both the Colorado and New York programs. Grant recipients in all three states must raise additional funding equal to or greater than the grant amount in order to qualify for funding.

As the latest version of the Ohio legislation explains, decision-makers would consider a variety of factors in determining which applicants are awarded funding. Those proposing to serve areas where the fastest broadband speeds are below 3 Mbps downstream and 768 kbps upstream would have priority over those proposing to serve areas where currently available speeds exceed those levels. Areas that already have service at speeds of 3 Mbps/ 768 kbps but do not have service above 10/1 Mbps would have second priority.

Projects also would be more likely to receive funding if they facilitate the use of telemedicine and electronic health records, serve economically distressed areas of the state, provide technical support and train residents, or meet several similar criteria.

According to a press release about the proposed Ohio legislation issued by broadband advocacy group Connect Ohio, more than 300,000 households in rural Ohio have no broadband access.

Bringing broadband to rural areas is also the goal of reforms made to the federal Universal Service Fund program, including the creation of the Connect America Fund. But some stakeholders have expressed concern that funding for those programs is not sufficient to achieve all the program’s goals. Potentially state-level programs could help close some of the gap. States also may perceive that broadband deployment goals can be achieved more quickly with state-level involvement.

Image courtesy of flickr user Sean MacEntee.