U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson Leads Discussions on Broadband Expansion in Monroe County

Photo by Janell Hunter U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson, R-Ohio, speaks to a group of local officials Tuesday during a roundtable discussion on expanding broadband access to rural areas at the Monroe County Chamber of Commerce.

Access to the internet is essential in today’s society and economy, and U.S. Rep. Bill Johnson said he is taking the lead in Washington, D.C., to help improve broadband internet in rural areas.

Johnson, R-Ohio, hosted a roundtable discussion on expanding broadband access at the Monroe County Chamber of Commerce office on Tuesday. He spoke about the need for expanded internet across his district because of its importance for education, business, health care and communication in general.

“If you want businesses to come in, you’ve got to have internet,” he said.

Johnson said he and others on the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology — part of the Energy and Commerce Committee — will be working closely with the Federal Communications Commission as well as with private internet providers and energy utilities on this effort.

He noted a big challenge to broadband providers coming into rural areas is a fear that they will not have enough population choosing to purchase their services to justify the cost of the infrastructure.

“How do you convince a provider to go the extra mile without any certainty that people will subscribe to your service? A provider must be able to get a return on their service,” Johnson said.

B.J. Smith, director of external affairs for AT&T, said her company recently accepted “Connect America” funds from the federal government that will help provide rural customers with internet connectivity.

“There will be 34,000 homes and businesses that will receive that, and most are in Appalachian Ohio,” Smith said.

Andy Malinoski of Frontier Communications said that in conjunction with the Connect America fund, Frontier has been able to invest $63 million in Ohio broadband over the past few years.

Johnson said there is a “bright spot in Washington” now, with President Donald Trump directing the need for major infrastructure programs, including help with water and sewer, roads and bridges, energy infrastructure and broadband access.

Much of the roundtable discussion revolved around the proposed PTT Global Chemical ethane cracker plant that may be built at Dilles Bottom and the need to have infrastructure ready for manufacturers and small businesses that would locate in East Ohio if the cracker is built. Johnson emphasized the need for local government entities and businesses to have a plan and “get out in front” to prepare for economic opportunities.

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