DECEMBER 19, 2007 -- Governor Ted Strickland this week launched Connect Ohio, a public-private partnership that he says will help expand broadband services across the stateÂ by working with local communities and providers to map gaps in access and facilitate local technology planning teams that will encourage adoption of broadband and other technologies.
"The digital divide in Ohio takes many forms--from lack of access to computers and broadband services to a lack of technological skills necessary for the jobs of the future," says Strickland. "The goal of Connect Ohio is to create customized support for local communities to meet their individual technological needs whileÂ helping expand broadband service to all residents and businesses."
Connect Ohio Initiatives, LLC, is a subsidiary of Connected Nation andÂ will operate as a non-profitÂ with a headquarters in Columbus. Connect Ohio's three-year strategy involves a partnership between the state and broadband providers to create detailed maps of broadband coverage to pinpoint remaining gaps in broadband availability in Ohio.
Connect Ohio will also work to establish public-private partnerships that will assist in supplying computers to areas that have broadband service but lack computer access.
"The Ohio Cable Telecommunications Association and its member companies commend Governor Strickland's goal of encouraging broadband deployment to areas of the state currently underserved by Internet access providers," asserts Jonathon McGee, executive director of the Ohio Cable Telecommunications Association.
"Connect Ohio is the first true public-private partnership dedicated solely to expanding our broadband network in Ohio," adds Charles Moses, president of the Ohio Telecom Association. "We believe Connect Ohio will identify gaps in broadband access and usage and create specific local plans to address the needs of individual communities. OTA member companies have a long history of investment in Ohio and remain committed to developing the finest telecommunications network possible."
This public-private partnership approach also is supported by the labor groups represented by Communications Workers of America. "As part of our national Speed Matters campaign, we will make available human and logistical resources in small cities, rural areas, and other underserved areas that are identified by Connect Ohio to help work for the deployment of these critical networks," reports Seth Rosen, vice president, district four of the Communications Workers of America.
The Connect Ohio model is based on community-specific needs, allowing private providers, the state, and community partners to develop customized plans for broadband service in their areas. Connect Ohio will conduct annual, quantitative surveys on the use of and access to broadband services and computing applications. Using this data, teams in each county will analyze the situation in their community to determine the necessary level of support and technical guidance needed to expand access.
The local expansion efforts will boost the supply of broadband consumers and create a growing demand for broadband services across Ohio.
"We look forward to partnering with the cable and telecommunications industries and their workers to build demand for their services and deploy broadband to areas of the state that are currently underserved," Strickland notes.
The executive director of Connect Ohio will hire staff members, including regional program managers to build teams and facilitate local planning. The Ohio Office of Information Technology, in collaboration with the Ohio Broadband Council, will oversee Connect Ohio's work.
The state cost for the program is estimated to be $2.9 million in the 2008-2009 biennium and $3.9 million in the 2010-2011 biennium.
"Under the Connect Ohio strategy, broadband providers will realize new possibilities in expansion, and Ohioans will have quick and affordable access to high-speed Internet service," Strickland says. "This, in turn, brings the state closer to establishing the technological infrastructure we need to be successful and competitive."
Connected Nation's partnership with the state of Ohio to form Connect Ohio is part of a national trend, say representatives of the organization. Many states are working with Connected Nation to pursue mapping initiatives and demand-creating public awareness campaigns. Public-private partnerships have proven to be an effective model for expanding the availability of broadband and increasing computer literacy in general. Doing so offers any state, community, or even a household a substantial economic advantage, they say.
Federal lawmakers have recognized the need for similar programs in virtually every state. In light of this, the United States Senate passed on Friday, December 14, the Connect the Nation Act as a component of the farm bill. Both the House and the Senate have now passed legislation aimed at enabling states to map and expand broadband into rural communities through public-private partnerships.
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