OCTA Spotlight: Cross Leads Charge to Speed Broadband Expansion to Unserved Ohioans
As the representative of Ohio’s 83rd House District and a native of Kenton (Hardin County), Representative Jon Cross is a strong advocate for rural Ohio. While he’s championed many worthwhile causes during his time in the Ohio General Assembly, Rep. Cross is currently leading the push to create a new $50 million Ohio Broadband Pole Replacement and Undergrounding Program. Thanks to his leadership – along with the strong support of Speaker Jason Stephens, Chairman Jay Edwards, and many more – this important program was included in the House’s budget proposal, which passed in late April.
“I’m a son of rural Ohio, so when I learned that broadband projects were being delayed because of utility pole replacement issues, I immediately thought of my constituents back home who continue to wait for quality, reliable internet service to arrive at their doors,” said Cross. “We cannot leave rural Ohioans behind as other areas of the state move forward without us, and I’m going to do everything I can to get broadband to those who need it.”
Undoubtedly, Ohio is taking great strides toward building quality broadband into every corner of the state. In 2022, OCTA member Charter Communications was awarded $6.91 million in state grant funding to support a $13.9 million project that will deliver broadband to 1,749 Hardin County households. Additionally, in 2021, Charter was awarded $3.62 million in federal Rural Digital Opportunity Fund grant support for an ~$18 million project that will deliver service to 1,876 homes and small businesses throughout Hardin County.
Despite this recent progress, a major hurdle that continues to slow construction is access to utility poles capable of holding the fiber optic cables and equipment necessary to deliver service. Nearly all rural broadband construction relies on utility poles to reach customers, with providers attaching to up to 20 poles per mile. In some cases, as many as 1 in 12 poles may need to be replaced, adding time and cost to the construction project. In fact, as much as 25 percent of the total expense of rural broadband buildout comes from utility pole replacements alone.
“Getting this new pole replacement program into the House budget was a great step forward, but now we must fight to get it signed into law,” said Cross. “This is a huge priority for me, and I hope my colleagues in the Senate – especially those who represent Ohioans still waiting for broadband to reach their homes – will join me in supporting this program.”
The House budget proposal commits $50 million in Fiscal Year 2024 to support a new Ohio Broadband Pole Replacement and Undergrounding Program, which would sunset in six years. The program would allow providers, including pole owners/affiliates that provide qualifying broadband service, to apply for a reimbursement for costs associated with pole replacements, mid-span pole installations, and undergrounding.
OCTA thanks Rep. Cross for his leadership on this issue, and we look forward to working with the Senate to pass a budget that includes strong support for this crucial program.