For many people, connecting to the internet can be as simple as reaching in their pocket and taking out a smartphone. With today’s technology, we have the ability to access search engines, answer emails, and use social media instantly in the palm of our hand.
However, there are also many communities throughout Ohio’s 15th District – and the country – where people have very little or no access to internet. Areas throughout Ohio suffer from a digital divide where entire counties do not have access to broadband connection. Rural counties are not the only ones vulnerable to this divide. In fact, Fairfield County – which is one of the fastest growing counties in Ohio – has many areas that struggle with connectivity.
John C. Hoag, Ph.D., a professor at Ohio University, conducted a study that found that broadband adoption can have an effect on educational attainment, poverty, infant mortality and even cancer incidence. While some schools are able to provide laptops or tablets to students, many kids lack internet connection at home to get full use out of the technology. There is no doubt that we need to work toward universal broadband access in our communities.
Earlier this month, I held a Digital Divide Roundtable at the Hocking College Logan Campus to bring together community leaders with the people who currently provide resources to bridge the digital divide. We examined where we are with broadband programs so we could discuss ways to address the needs in our communities. Over 80 local, state and federal elected officials, internet providers, and representatives from organizations such as ConnectOhio, the U.S. Department of Agriculture, and the Federal Communications Commission were in attendance to work together for the issue. Dr. Hoag also attended and led the discussion.
Moving forward from the event, we have all came away with a renewed commitment to solving the connectivity issues in Ohio. We are in the process of creating working groups to address all sides of the issue with the goal of making significant progress in addressing connectivity issues during this year. In Congress, I will also be working to ensure that any infrastructure bill we consider will include funding for projects to help areas who lack internet connection.
After the Digital Divide Roundtable, I had the opportunity to stop by Vinton County High School to donate computer equipment that had been used in my office to help give students in Vinton County, an area with widespread connectivity issues, more access while they are at school. This represents just a small way my office was able to help in the short-term while we work with those who attended the roundtable and others towards more permanent solutions to bridge the digital divide in our country.
If you have questions about broadband connectivity or any other issue facing our communities, I invite you contact my Washington, D.C. office at (202) 225-2015, Hilliard office at (614) 771-4968, Lancaster office at (740) 654-2654, or Wilmington office at (937) 283-7049. I also encourage you to subscribe to my email newsletter at stivers.house.gov.
Steve Stivers is a member of Congress from Ohio’s 15th Congressional District.