Ohio submitted a planning grant application to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration for the “Ohio Digital Equity Plan” via the grant portal.
Cleveland, Ohio has been named by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance the worst big city in America for connectivity, stated the application, with an estimated 30 percent of households without internet access. Miles away in a rural Appalachian village called Coal Grove, Ohio, thousands of residents lack basic internet access.
The state of Ohio is determined to resolve its “widespread” connectivity issue. In 2020, the state established its broadband office, called BroadbandOhio, to improve internet access for its citizens.
“A step towards achieving the goal of universal coverage in Ohio will be taking part in the State Digital Equity Planning Grant Program,” continued the application. “Developing this plan for the state of Ohio will promote the achievement of digital equity, support inclusion activities and increase the adoption of broadband in Ohio.”
BroadbandOhio is preparing to hire a Manager for Digital Equity and Inclusion to lead the development of this plan. The position will be responsible to manage the planning process, coordinate meetings with stakeholders, and manage data. The office has already identified the next steps in planning that will occur immediately upon funding.
Ohio has a “rich history” of groups that have been working in the digital equity space for some time, and it hopes to benefit from these relationships.
“The initial objective is to convene key stakeholders that BroadbandOhio has already identified and been working with as well as new stakeholders to develop a plan of statewide collaboration and coordination with organizations that represent covered populations, CAIs, local governments, educational institutions, non-profits, and many more,” read the application.
BroadbandOhio has already enjoyed success at hosting statewide meetings with stakeholders to share broadband ideas and objectives. It hopes that this practice will help shape the digital equity plan by identifying and measuring the impact of barriers to digital equity in its communities. It believes that this group will become the focal point for outreach at a grassroots level.
The office will sub-award planning grant money under two categories. The first sub-award category will be allocated to sub-grantees for meeting facilitation, data collection and community engagement activities. The second sub-award category will help fund pilot programs to engage with covered populations to ensure coalitions are collecting proper data and engaging in proper populations.
Ohio anticipates that the planning process will be executed over a year period with total estimated costs of $1.47 million. It will be “a clear path forward with actionable and achievable next steps,” promised the application.
BroadbandOhio has not received any comment from the NTIA on the application. Applications for the State Digital Equity Planning Grant Program are due July 12 and are submitted through the NTIA application portal.