U.S. Sen. Sherrod Brown (D-OH) joined business owners in Chillicothe today to highlight how broadband expansion has helped to improve business and promote economic development in southern Ohio. Brown visited Horizon Telcom to highlight the Ohio Middle Mile Consortium (OMMC) project that will expand access to broadband for 34 counties in Appalachia. When completed, the project will deploy more than 1,900 miles of fiber optic network to connect nearly 600 community anchors, including schools, hospitals, and libraries.
"If we want to promote economic development throughout Ohio, we need to ensure that businesses have broadband access. Ohio's rural communities have been overlooked for too long, but this expansion has bridged the digital divide for Appalachian Ohio small businesses," Brown said. "Ohio Middle Mile and Horizon's cooperation will help promote economic growth and improve the competitiveness of Ohio communities in underserved areas. This is an investment in the future of our state."
Neil Lane, CEO of Stirling Ultracold in Athens outlined how important access to high-speed broadband is to local manufacturers looking to reach global markets. Brown was also joined by Steve Steele, vice president of Horizon Telcom and Stu Johnson, Director of Connect Ohio.
"The availability of world-class broadband was central to Stirling Ultracold's decision to grow our cleantech biological freezer manufacturing business in Appalachian Ohio," Lane said. "Federal spending on broadband infrastructure has been a direct benefit to our business and we have enjoyed excellent service from Horizon."
"The impact of this project is enormous," Steele said. "Historically, broadband connectivity in many areas of Appalachia Ohio has been limited or nonexistent. Communities now will have the opportunity to grow and develop with greater economic development utilizing this world-class network."
"Rural Appalachian Ohio remains 13 percent below state and national standards for broadband accessibility," Johnson said. "Connect Ohio has demonstrated that a comprehensive and sustainable solution can only be achieved with ongoing federal involvement as the foundation to spur continued expansion with local and private investment."
Broadband bridges the digital gap that too often disadvantages rural Ohio - undermining business development and compromising timely access to basic public services like fire, police, and health care. Brown has been a longtime advocate for bringing broadband access to Appalachian Ohio. In March 2008, Brown's office hosted a forum in Zanesville where stakeholders throughout Appalachian Ohio spoke to the importance of expanding broadband. In 2009, Brown passed an amendment with the then-Chairman of the Senate Agriculture Committee to ensure that $2.5 billion of Recovery Act funds for broadband access would be devoted to rural broadband.
He then worked to create the Ohio Middle Mile Consortium to ensure collaboration among Ohio applicants for broadband funds. In June 2010, Brown wrote to U.S. Department of Commerce Secretary Gary Locke in support of the OMMC for the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP). After the Connecting Appalachia application was denied in the first round of consideration, Brown's office convened a roundtable of stakeholders in preparation for the second round. In March 2010, Brown also wrote to National Telecommunications and Information Administration Assistant Secretary Strickling in support of the OMMC Connecting Appalachia application.
In August 2010, the U.S. Departments of Agriculture and Commerce announced that OMMC, a public-private state-wide partnership, would receive more than $141 million in total funds from the Recovery Act for broadband expansion. Horizon Telcom's Connecting Appalachian Ohio proposal was awarded $66.5 million in funds to expand broadband access for 34 counties in southeastern Ohio.
As the first Ohioan on Senate Agriculture Committee in more than 40 years and Chairman of its Subcommittee on Jobs, Rural Economic Growth and Energy Innovation, Brown introduced legislation, the Connecting Rural America Act, which would strengthen existing USDA programs that provide for the construction, improvement, and acquisition of facilities and equipment to provide broadband service to underserved, rural communities. This legislation--which was included in the Senate farm bill that passed in June 2012--which would reauthorize the existing Rural Broadband Loan Program and add a grant component to the program to target funds to the small towns and rural communities that need it most.