BY KIRK DOUGAL

Times Bulletin Publisher

kdougal@timesbulletin.com

VAN WERT - A report issued this week shows a statewide program begun in 2008 is continuing its progress towards making broadband available in every part of Ohio.
On Wednesday, Connect Ohio reported broadband availability across Ohio has grown to 97.62 percent of all homes. The climb in percentage is a result of the number of homes without access dropping from 64,800 in October of 2012 to 59,200. Most Ohio residents who do not have broadband accessible at their homes live in the southeastern portion of the state.

Connect Ohio began in 2008 under Gov. Ted Strickland's administration as a public/private non-profit organization whose main focus was narrowing the broadband gap across sociological and geographic boundaries. The state was awarded $1.8 million in December of 2009 from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, known as the stimulus package, to study the best way to modernize Ohio's connectivity. Gov. Strickland said at the time the lack of broadband infrastructure was not only slowing educational opportunities for Ohio residents, it was also making it harder to keep and attract employers.

In July of 2009, a report revealed Van Wert County mirrored the rest of the state. Only 72 percent of county residents had a computer in their home and only 47 percent had broadband connectivity. Both of those numbers trailed the state averages which, in turn, lagged behind the rest of the United States. To make matters worse, many rural residents did not even have access to what was defined as high speed Internet. The vast majority of those people lived on the west side of the county outside of the Village of Convoy.

By 2011, the number of Ohio homes with a computer had grown to 80 percent with broadband usage at 66 percent, passing the U.S. percentage of 63. (A county-by-county breakdown for Ohio was not available at the time.) Later that same year, Connect Ohio offered training on high speed Internet access at Vantage Career Center through the Every Citizen Online project.

This week's report from Connect Ohio showed the program is working with much of the improvement coming since last year. Ohio home broadband usage is now up to 71 percent and nearly 94 percent of homes have more than one provider available, keeping the cost of access below the national average. Every Van Wert County home has access to high speed Internet connection. But officials say the work is not yet done.

"Over the past six months the concentration of investments has been to upgrade existing networks while expansion remained stagnant," said Connect Ohio executive director Stu Johnson in a release. "Ohioans can be proud of the continued network upgrade investments in telecommunications, cable, and wireless Internet service providers. Although this data appears to show widespread availability coverage, nearly a third (29%) of Ohio households do not subscribe to broadband or have adopted this technology. Many of our fellow citizens remain on the wrong side of the digital divide and are missing out on opportunities in education, economic development, healthcare, public safety, and overall quality of life. Connect Ohio continues to work towards reaching the goal of broadband access for all Ohioans."