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Unhappy with your broadband internet service? Tell Eastgate about it

Eastgate Regional Council of Governments recently launched a survey of area broadband customers in Mahoning, Trumbull and Ashtabula counties — even as legislation to help expand high-speed internet access in underserved areas of Ohio is getting bipartisan support.
Ohio Statehouse 01272021
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Are you unhappy with your broadband internet service? Want to tell someone about it?

Eastgate Regional Council of Governments recently launched a survey of area broadband customers, as part of its regional broadband feasibility study in Mahoning, Trumbull and Ashtabula counties for which it received a federal grant in September.

The survey, which takes a few minutes to complete, collects information on how households or businesses access the internet, what they use it for and whether the state of broadband availability has a negative impact on their lives or livelihoods.

For businesses, it also asks about the type of business and about internet service costs.

The survey also includes a simple internet connection speed test conducted through your web browser.

“Thus far, the response has been terrific and we are encouraged by the valuable data that this will provide once completed,” Mark Ragozine, Eastgate’s economic development planner, wrote in an email to Mahoning Matters.

Eastgate will continue to accept survey responses through the end of March, he said.

The council’s broadband feasibility study, which seeks solutions to high-speed broadband accessibility and affordability, is “coming along nicely,” but much work remains, Ragozine added. A report on the study is expected to be finalized by late spring or early summer, he said.

“We are very optimistic that this report will provide the region with a framework for the pursuit of [state and federal] funding that will go towards projects capable of significantly enhancing broadband capability and connectivity,” Ragozine said.

Youngstown ranked 43rd worst in the nation for broadband connectivity in a 2018 report.

Lawmakers backing broadband boom

In Columbus, legislation to help expand high-speed internet access in underserved and rural areas of Ohio is getting bipartisan support and fast-tracked consideration at the Statehouse as the coronavirus pandemic increases pressure to address that digital divide, the Associated Press reported Thursday.

A measure that would direct $210 million toward increasing broadband access passed the House on Thursday with wide support. The total includes $20 million annually over three fiscal years, plus another $150 million for the coming year that was part of Gov. Mike DeWine's state budget proposal.

“Internet is not a luxury in 2021,” said Rep. Brian Stewart, R-Ashville, one of the bill's sponsors. “It’s a necessity.”

State officials say an estimated 300,000 households and more than 1 million residents across Ohio lack high-speed internet. The problem has been exacerbated by the pandemic as more people have relied on digital connectivity for remote work, virtual schooling, telehealth appointments, social and support services, online business transactions and interactions with family and friends.

In testimony from proponents of the bill, lawmakers heard story after story about the importance of broadband for all sorts of Ohioans, such as children doing homework, dairy farmers using robotic milking systems and employers who had to furlough staff who didn't have access to work remotely during COVID-19 restrictions.

The broadband bill would create a grant program to help overcome the cost hurdles that dissuade broadband providers from connecting hard-to-reach homes. The grants would fund parts of such projects that providers might otherwise consider cost-prohibitive and unjustifiable from a business perspective.

“The lack of internet service in rural parts of Trumbull and Mahoning counties has been exacerbated by the recent COVID pandemic," Tom Humphries, outgoing CEO of the Youngstown/Warren Regional Chamber, told the House Finance Committee when testifying in favor of the bill earlier this month. "As schools transitioned to remote learning, for example, restaurant parking lots throughout our two counties filled up on homework nights as parents and students sought access to the world wide web."

According to James Kinnick, Eastgate’s executive director, four in five rural households unserved by a broadband internet provider are in “the hard-to-reach, rugged terrain of Appalachia,” and nearly a third of households in the state’s nine largest urban centers don’t have a basic internet subscription.

“Low-income households in both urban and rural settings are even less likely than their peers to have internet access, compounding the deficits among these populations,” he told the finance committee in support of the bill. “Furthermore, even Ohio households with service often endure connectivity speeds too low and connectivity too unreliable to adequately support distance learning, remote work and modern industry operations.”

The bill has been co-sponsored by the whole of the Mahoning Valley’s bipartisan House delegation.

That approach combines the efforts of government and business to expand connectivity, said Rep. Rick Carfagna, R-Genoa Township, who sponsored the House proposal after advocating two other versions that fell short of passage in previous years.

The legislation would still need approval from the Senate. That chamber recently passed a similar bill to create such a program, but it didn't include the same funding specifications.

Even if the grant program is approved and broadband infrastructure is added, that isn't enough to solve the problem, Director Susan Jagers of the Ohio Poverty Law Center warned lawmakers. She noted in her testimony that many of the families lacking high-speed internet live in areas where broadband is available and simply can't afford to pay for it.

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Associated Press writer Kantele Franko and Mahoning Matters reporter Justin Dennis contributed to this report.