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Federal Funding To Boost Broadband Access In Rural Areas

Ohio is among the first states receiving federal funds to expand broadband access to rural areas. And state officials say that means new jobs and increased economic growth for some of Ohio's hardest-hit counties.

Some $2.4 million in federal grants and loans are tagged for a project to boost broadband access in northern Delaware County, Morrow County and parts of Knox and Licking Counties. US Department of Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack says the construction of a 166-mile network will provide broadband access to 5,000 residential homes, as well as businesses, libraries, and hospitals.

"This project is shovel-ready. The vast majority of this network should be completed within 9 months to a year," says Vilsack.

According to the USDA, while 84% of urban households have access to broadband, only about 70% of rural households have that same access. Democratic US Senator Sherrod Brown says the federal money will help to bridge this so-called digital gap.

"There's ample evidence that broadband access increases business revenue, it generates new jobs, it fosters entrepreneurship and innovation," says Brown.

Democratic Congressman Zack Space says the rural areas he represents face increasing challenges in terms of access to healthcare and education, as well as economic development infrastructure.

"Part of that infrastructure includes technological infrastructure. And building out the nation's broadband does deal with all of these challenges very effectively," says Space.

The funding for rural Ohio represents the first wave of federally-funded broadband projects. Congress provided a total of $2.5 billion to the USDA to improve rural broadband access nationwide.