Steve Sydow: A chance to build our rural communities

Published 12:00 am Monday, November 6, 2023

As a former city employee in Ironton, I’ve witnessed the evolution of our communities firsthand. 

Our towns, steeped in history, can too often be ignored when it comes time to prioritize major infrastructural developments. 

The introduction of the Broadband Equity, Access, & Deployment (BEAD) Program presents some hope, a chance for rural Ohio to take top priority and step into the digital age. 

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This opportunity must be grasped with both hands and steered with practicality to make sure rural Ohio isn’t left waiting once again.

Broadband access in rural areas is not just a matter of convenience; it’s a lifeline. 

It’s a way for our small businesses to connect with wider markets, a tool for our students to access educational resources, and a means for our citizens to engage with essential services, from telehealth appointments to government assistance programs.

The internet is no longer a luxury; it’s a necessity, and rural Ohio deserves the same opportunities and access as our urban counterparts.

The BEAD Program holds the promise of leveling this digital playing field, but it is not without its challenges. 

Bureaucrats in Washington always think they know best and, right now, they’re pushing our state broadband officials to adopt restrictions on BEAD funding that could delay buildouts and leave rural Ohio waiting. 

These federal government officials are trying to force Ohio to adopt rate regulation for both our low-cost and middle class affordability plans, a tactic that could scare experienced broadband providers away from taking on the projects our communities so desperately need.

This isn’t the first time that a major federal broadband program has been stymied by overly restrictive government guidelines.

Back in 2009, Congress passed the $4 billion Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP). After the federal government set overly-perspective requirements for the program, major internet providers failed to bid on program implementation. 

Grants went to smaller, less experienced companies, and over $500 million of the program’s funds were halted amid questions of irregularities, unsanctioned expenditures and failure to meet construction plans and schedules. 

We can’t afford to let a promising program fail because of bad guidance.

It’s vital to recognize that the recommendations outlined in the BEAD Program are suggestions, not mandates. 

Rural Ohio’s needs are unique, and our decision-makers must have the autonomy to tailor these strategies to suit us best. The heart of our communities is our people, and ensuring they have equal access to the digital tools necessary for success is not just a matter of policy; it’s a matter of equity and fairness. 

The internet is a conduit for economic growth, educational empowerment and community development.

By ensuring efficient and rapid deployment of broadband services, we can catalyze a transformation in rural Ohio. 

Small businesses can thrive, students can dream bigger and our citizens can access vital services without leaving their communities.

In this digital age, rural Ohio’s story should not be one of isolation, but of connectivity; not of limitations, but of boundless opportunities. 

Let us advocate for a pragmatic approach, one that values efficiency, affordability and adaptability.

By embracing these principles, we can ensure that the BEAD Program becomes a catalyst for rural revitalization, weaving a new chapter of progress and prosperity for every citizen in rural Ohio.

Steve Sydow is the owner of  SJS Electric and a retired Ironton city electrician.