Peter, Voderberg, Ohio Broadband Director

Ohio has “very competitive” and “aggressive” broadband providers, which bodes well for the state’s goal of making broadband available statewide, said Peter Voderberg, chief for BroadbandOhio, in an interview with Telecompetitor.

He points to the fact that the state received applications requesting a total of $780 million when it made $77 million available for rural broadband deployments using funding from the federal Capital Projects Fund.

“We’re very fortunate that we have a very competitive and aggressive ISP marketplace looking to expand broadband throughout the state,” said Voderberg. “We have forged great relationships and have partners willing to bid for these projects and apply for grant programs.”

Voderberg heads up a team of six, housed within the Ohio Department of Development.

“This is it; we have one shot to get this right, and the time is now,” he said.

Ohio Broadband Funding Programs

Voderberg has an extensive history working within Ohio’s state government and was serving as a policy advisor to Governor Mike DeWine before establishing BroadbandOhio, ironically a few short weeks before the start of pandemic lockdowns in 2020.

Previously, Ohio had not dedicated any funding resources for broadband infrastructure. But the DeWine administration allocated funds for what would become Ohio’s Residential Broadband Expansion Grant Program or, in a world that requires acronyms, ORBEG. The first round of $232 million was awarded in 2022 and focused on unserved and underserved addresses.

Subsequently, Ohio received $268.6 million in Treasury Capital Projects Fund (CPF), which Voderberg explains has been mostly earmarked. 

“We took all of the CPF funds and dedicated them to a series of projects,” said Voderberg.

The initial $90 million went to an area that BroadbandOhio is only tangentially involved with — community development centers throughout the Appalachian region, he said.

“These centers will, of course, feature robust broadband access,” Voderberg noted.  

An additional $77 million of CPF is slated for award next month for broadband deployments. There was no match requirement for these grant applications, but Voderberg reports that the match component averaged around 55%.

Further allocations of CPF funds of $20 million will go to an affordability grant program and another $10 million will go to line extension. Details for both programs are still being resolved.

Bracing for BEAD

Ohio has been allocated $793.7 million in BEAD funding to reach the 262K eligible locations in the state, including 87K underserved locations and 175K unserved locations.

Neither Volumes 1 nor 2 of Ohio’s initial BEAD proposal have been approved as of yet, as the state is working through a semantics misalignment with the NTIA similar to what the state of Minnesota encountered.

For Ohio, the misalignment centers on whether fixed wireless should be deemed to be a reliable alternative technology. Voderberg explains that in Northwest Ohio, fixed wireless is a “go to” for many residential areas and that, while some fixed wireless providers “are offering great service, we have found that another handful of providers aren’t great with accurately reporting service levels they are delivering.”

He goes on to explain that the Ohio broadband office isn’t just hearing about this anecdotally but took the step to manually speed test 10,000 connections. Thirty percent of those reportedly served were actually unserved.

For the ORBEG program, Ohio’s legislative remedy for fixed wireless misreporting was to treat locations served by fixed wireless as unserved. The one exception was in extremely high-cost areas.

“The NTIA says we can’t call wireless unreliable, that we cannot change the definition of reliable technologies. But what we’ve submitted is a nod to the fact that we believe we should aspire to fiber,” said Voderberg.

The impasse has delayed NTIA approvals.

Still, Voderberg remains optimistic at possibly distributing funds sooner rather than later. He noted, for example, that Ohio has an ORBEG challenge process in place, which could simplify establishing a BEAD challenge process.  

The office is also looking at using historic speed test data as part of the challenge process.

Voderberg reports that Volume 1 is very close to being approved and he anticipates that the challenge process should be underway next month.

The Plan Forward

Voderberg anticipates two rounds of BEAD funding for Ohio.

“We’ll start with a robust round one, allocate funds by census block, and at first, focus on where we can deploy fiber. Round 2, we will need to get creative with incentives and rely on our good ISP partners,” he said. “We have worked hard to ensure we have an ecosystem where ISPs will apply and help achieve our universal connectivity goals.” 

While the process is underway for volume approval and grants distributed, Ohio is starting its BEAD investment by allocating $50 million for workforce development programs.

More specifically, the funds will be applied to Ohio’s “Strengthening Ohio’s Broadband & 5G Workforce” Strategy to ensure that Ohio has a skilled and prepared workforce by offering training and education programs.

Voderberg anticipates that with approvals on the near horizon, followed by a short challenge process, round one of awarding funds should be late this year or early next.

Asked if the state has enough funds, Voderberg confidently answered that Ohio is “making it work.”

Making the State a “Better Place”

While born in Illinois, Voderberg has been in Ohio ever since he attended The Ohio State University.

He is taking the broadband deployment challenge personally. In his view, “There aren’t a lot of people that fight for Ohioans. Someone needs to be looking out for Ohioans to make sure we are getting a good deal and getting connected.”  

Voderberg is probably smack dab in the middle of his career, affable, and enjoying his role. During our conversation he is upbeat, laughing, and clearly personally invested in both public service and connecting Ohio.

He insists that his agenda is nether to be right or to pick fights for the sake of fighting. He is, however, highly confident that he knows what Ohioans need, and he is motivated to deliver it.

“We are going to reach universal coverage and make the state a better place,” he said.

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