Gov. Strickland kicks off Connect Ohio

Things are moving in the right direction in Ohio.

On Monday, Gov. Ted Strickland launched Connect Ohio, a public-private partnership with the goal of expanding high speed Internet access across Ohio and bridging the state's digital divide.

The state government kicked in an initial $2.9 million for the initiative, with expectations of another $3.9 million in the next budget period. The rest of the funding for Connect Ohio will come from the private sector, including cable and telecommunications companies.

This effort will be modeled after Connect Kentucky, which made tremendous progress toward universal high speed Internet access in that state. Connect Ohio will be a subsidiary of Connected Nation, which grew out of the Kentucky effort.

The Communications Workers of America have been instrumental in helping get this program off the ground.  Seth Rosen, vice president of CWA District 4, was present at Gov. Strickland's Connect Ohio kickoff event, and he offered praise from CWA for the new program:

We believe that high-tech innovation, job growth, telemedicine, distance learning, rural development, public safety and e-government require truly high speed, universal networks. "Connect Ohio" will provide an opportunity in every community, throughout all 88 counties in Ohio, for business, labor, government and community organizations to work cooperatively to aid the deployment of high speed networks to every citizen, business and government agency in our state.

You can listen to Rosen's further remarks here.

The program will map the state by the access neighborhoods and communities have to high-speed internet service. Once the gaps are identified, CWA will be especially involved in working in those areas to build coalitions with other unions, business, government and higher education to show telecom companies that there is interest. "We'll be helping to bring together groups of people from different entities in a coordinated way to make it more worthwhile for companies to invest," Rosen said.

Because they don't share information with one another, telecom companies don't know exactly where the gaps in coverage are. While a representative of the Ohio Cable Telecommunications Association said cable Internet service is available in all 88 Ohio counties, the new map will provide a much more detailed look at high speed Internet access. Only then can a comprehensive plan for expanding high speed Internet access be implemented.

Rosen's office and CWA leaders around the state, including Frank Matthews, president of the CWA Ohio State Council, started talking with Strickland about high-speed internet during his campaign for governor in 2006. In July, Strickland signed a statewide video franchising bill that encourages broadband investment, but not necessarily in all areas, Rosen said. To expand coverage, CWA pushed for Connect Ohio, a program modeled on a similar project in Kentucky.

Since taking office, Gov. Strickland has made a concerted effort to bridge Ohio's digital divide. We hope other states will follow Ohio's lead.

Strickland launches 'Connect Ohio' (Dayton Daily News)

ConnectKentucky: A model for the rest of the country (Speed Matters)

Connect Kentucky

High Speed in the Blue Grass (Speed Matters)

Ohio to map areas lacking high-speed Internet (Toledo Blade)

Getting Ohio Connected (90.3 WCPN Ohio)

A great first step in Ohio (Speed Matters)