Community networks fill vital role in providing internet connectivity

Community networks fill vital role in providing internet connectivity

Lack of high-speed, high-quality internet access in Ohio is a significant hurdle that negatively impacts everything from how Ohioans learn and make a living to how we keep our communities safe. This challenge has led to major investments by federal and state governments. 

Unfortunately, some organizations are putting their personal interests ahead of the needs of all Ohioans, calling for communities to avoid expanding local access to high-speed, high-quality broadband with these funds. This approach is extremely short-sighted and puts Ohioans at a disadvantage in a world where connectivity is crucial for success.

It’s no secret Ohio is being left behind when it comes to connectivity. According to Connecting Appalachia, Ohio is ranked 37th in the nation for connectivity and internet access. Even in communities with internet providers, choices can be inadequate, unaffordable, or lack enough speed to adequately serve the needs of businesses, schools, and residents. These issues are not isolated to Appalachia or rural Ohio; in 2019, Cleveland was found to be the worst-connected large city in the country.

Private internet companies have taken steps to address these concerns, but it’s clear they don’t have the bandwidth to get all Ohioans connected. 

Many communities have realized the frustration of waiting years for private companies to provide this critical service and have chosen to take a proactive approach. More than 30 Ohio communities have made the local decision to invest their dollars wisely in developing broadband infrastructure for their constituents.

These community networks are filling vital roles in providing high-speed and reliable connectivity to our schools, hospitals, and critical public safety services. In many instances, the communities established public-private partnerships, providing and facilitating the installation of infrastructure to allow private internet providers to offer service to the community. According to the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, community broadband and public-private partnerships account for nine of the top 10 fastest broadband networks in the country.  

Opponents of these networks will misleadingly point over and over again to the same “failed” examples as a reason to ban this opportunity for all communities, without providing important context or recognizing the hundreds of well-managed and successful networks across the country.   

The economic and access benefits of communities with strong broadband networks are undisputed. A report from Deloitte found a strong correlation between broadband availability, jobs and GDP growth. A 10-percentage-point increase of broadband access in 2014 would have resulted in more than 875,000 additional US jobs and $186 billion in additional economic output in 2019.  

By discouraging communities from investing in this crucial infrastructure, we are allowing private companies to pick and choose winners in our state.  

Municipalities that have invested in the construction of community broadband networks are doing so because their citizens need access – and the private sector is either not able or is not interested in providing it to their community in an equitable and affordable way.  

Local governments understand their citizens’ needs better than anyone else, so decisions about internet services should be made at the community level. Internet access in Ohio isn’t a one-size-fits-all technology, and communities shouldn’t have their arms tied behind their back or be held hostage by private companies whose priority is the return on their investment.  

At this time, we must do everything possible, using every tool we have, to increase access to secure, high-speed broadband for our children, businesses, families and communities.