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Ohio policy group critical of government-owned broadband networks

Two Ohio counties plan to use more than $60 million in federal COVID-19 relief funds to develop broadband networks, a move a policy group believes could eventually be costly to taxpayers.

The Buckeye Institute cautioned communities against starting or expanding government-owned broadband networks that would likely lead to eventual expenses for upgrades, maintenance and service after federal money is gone.

In a policy memo, Better Ways to Build and Expand Broadband Service in Ohio, The Buckeye Institute’s Greg Lawson pointed to Clark County, which already has a plan in place to spend $2.2 million to start its network, and Summit County, which wants to use $60 million to upgrade its network, as two communities that chose the wrong path.

Instead, the memo urges community leaders to rely on “efficient, taxpayer-friendly partnerships with private broadband providers to build or expand broadband service or offer service vouchers to consumers in underserved areas of the state.

“Such proposals offer short-sighted solutions with great long-term risk, and they ignore significantly better, more cost-effective options for expanding broadband access to reach underserved communities,” the memo reads.

The memo also challenges the argument a lack of private-sector competition in the broadband market justifies government involvement. Lawson said the market has pushed broadband prices down since 2016.

Lawson pointed toward Ohio’s recently enacted grant program as a better way of using and protecting taxpayer money.

“The Ohio Residential Broadband Expansion Grant Program, for example, strategically targets government resources to expand broadband coverage while protecting taxpayer investments by creating public-private partnerships. The program tailors government grants to close gaps between what commercial service providers will spend to build a network and the full cost of providing the ‘last mile’ to underserved communities,” the memo reads.

Earlier this month, Republican Gov. Mike DeWine announced $232 million in grants from the program are expected to impact 40,000 Ohioans. Eleven internet services providers will share the money that will be used for 33 broadband expansion projects in 31 different counties.

According to a news release from DeWine, 300,000 households in the state, representing about 1 million people, lack broadband internet.

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