Ohio ‘ahead of the game’ with broadband workforce training, says Lt. Gov

Like most states, Ohio has its own approach for bolstering broadband accessibility. One area where Ohio is seeing progress, Lt. Governor Jon Husted told Fierce, is in enhancing its broadband workforce.

“I think everybody right now has challenges with inadequate workforce, but I believe in Ohio we are ahead of the game there just because of the number of educational institutions we are funding to train people,” he said.

Husted, who also leads Ohio’s Office of Workforce Transformation, explained Ohio State University (OSU), along with the Wireless Infrastructure Association (WIA), have developed a curriculum for 5G and high-speed internet expansion, which can be used by other colleges and universities as well as the private sector.

OSU last year received $3 million in state funds to design its curriculum, which is also being deployed at high schools as well as adult career centers, said Husted. The state has also doled out around $500 million to four other institutions to help train broadband technicians.

“Either the school itself pays for it, or with the adult program, we have a micro-credential funding program that we use to basically help people access training for free,” he said.

Husted pointed out the private sector – in many cases the ISPs – has helped the initiative by providing instructors.

“It’s not like there’s a bunch of unemployed technicians out there,” he said. “The private sector has been very generous at loaning instructors or recruiting retired technicians to come back and teach the class.”

The state’s primary broadband funding source is the Ohio Residential Broadband Expansion Grant Program, which was established via legislation in May 2021. Husted said Ohio last year completed a grant process that had $250 million allocated by the General Assembly, and that funding was matched by another $250 million in private sector investments. The winning bidders have two years to complete their projects.

“It’s going well, except in some circumstances they complain that the process for them getting access to right of ways or pole attachments has slowed down their progress of implementation,” said Husted.

He added the structure of Ohio’s broadband grant program has caused some rural areas, particularly in the northwest part of the state, to not be “served as well as I had hoped.”

“In the way [the program] was structured, it just skewed towards more Appalachian, lower-income rural parts of Ohio, rather than some of the more less dense, farm communities you have in Northwest Ohio,” he said.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) is expected to announce state allocations for the $42.5 billion Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program next month. In Ohio’s case, Husted thinks the state is prepared to “receive the money and go.”

“We know where the need is, we have an established system for distribution of resources and deployment, and we have a job training program that’s supplying the talent [providers] need to get it done on time,” he stated.

Husted closed with a takeaway on what the government should take note of when addressing broadband accessibility.

“Here’s one thing the federal government – particularly legislative bodies – often think. They think just because you passed a law, just because you appropriated money, that somehow, you’ve solved the problem,” he said. “And while you may have helped, you certainly are a long way from having solved the problem, because implementation is much more complicated.”

That implementation spans all areas, from developing the workforce to having accurate maps, “all those kinds of details, those need to be in play,” he added.