Achieving a Digitally Inclusive Ohio

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

Tuesday, November 21, 2023

Digital Beat

 Achieving a Digitally Inclusive Ohio

All 50 states, the District of Columbia, and Puerto Rico are currently working on digital equity plans. As they release draft plans seeking public feedback, the Benton Institute for Broadband & Society is sharing summaries focused on how states define their digital divides and their vision for reaching digital equity.

In August 2023, Ohio released a draft Digital Opportunity Plan to the public for feedback. The plan, developed by BroadbandOhio, seeks to address the issues beyond connectivity—affordability, access to devices, and digital skills—that affect Ohioans' access to high-speed internet. Achieving a more digitally inclusive Ohio will empower people all across the state to fully engage in their communities, seek and maintain employment, better connect with loved ones, learn, and access healthcare and other essential services. This plan is Ohio's roadmap to reaching a more digitally inclusive state.

Ohio's Vision of Digital Equity

BroadbandOhio is working to bring reliable, affordable, high-speed internet to every Ohioan, in their home and in their community. While broadband expansion projects are increasing connectivity across Ohio and improving access to high-speed internet, gaps in access to affordable internet, internet-enabled devices, and digital skills training and technical support remain barriers to communities’ use of this vital service.

Ohio's vision of a more digitally equitable Ohio extends beyond connectivity; it encompasses equal opportunity to access quality education, healthcare, job opportunities, government services, and cultural resources online. By fostering collaborative partnerships and empowering under-resourced communities to accomplish its goals, Ohio will ensure that no one is left behind.

By building an inclusive, connected, and technologically proficient society, BroadbandOhio aspires to create a thriving, resilient, and forward-looking Ohio that maximizes the potential of its residents. Together, we can shape a future where digital equity serves as the bedrock for progress, social cohesion, and collective prosperity across Ohio.

The state envisions broadband deployment and digital participation along 4 key priorities:

  1. Bring reliable, affordable, high-speed internet to all Ohioans, in their homes and communities;
  2. Promote the creation of world-class broadband networks throughout the state via the use of best-in-class technologies;
  3. Enable participation in the modern economy;
  4. Empower Ohioans through training, device access, and digital skills

High-speed internet is no longer a luxury—it’s a critical necessity for everything from school to work to healthcare. We must end the digital divide in our state, and by giving our rural and unserved areas access to affordable and reliable high-speed internet, we will enhance economic growth in these communities and bring about new opportunities for residents. — Governor Mike DeWine (R-OH)

Ohio's Covered Populations and Barriers to Digital Equity

Statewide data show that:

  • Of the 2.01 million Ohio households eligible for the Affordable Connectivity Program (42 percent), only 1,025,139 have enrolled (51.4 percent of those eligible)
  • Some 17 percent of Ohioans do not have an internet-ready device (e.g., laptop, computer, or tablet).
  • At least 706,000 households earn $50,000 or less per year and have “low digital skills.”

The impact of these issues varies by region and by covered population group.

  • Fifty percent of the households without subscriptions are located in 10 of Ohio’s 88 counties, especially Cuyahoga (161,000), Franklin (107,000), Hamilton (79,000), Montgomery (62,000), and Summit (54,000) counties
  • Lowest adoption rates are in the Appalachian counties
  • Adoption gaps are disproportionate in low-income households and among aging people and people with disabilities
  • For internet devices, the same trend is present, but with smaller gaps

Individuals who live in households with income at or below 150% of the federal poverty level

Ohio's "covered households," or individuals who live in households with income at or below 150 percent of the federal poverty level, are most concerned with a lack of affordable broadband service. While 70 percent of residents have both home and internet plans, only 57 percent of low-income residents had both home and data plans. Two-thirds of low-income residents cited price as the primary reason for not having home internet.

Residents believe that the lack of competition among internet service providers keeps prices high and further worry that, with the end of the Federal Communications Commission's Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP), they will not have any affordable options. Already, there are many residents who are just above the ACP qualification threshold but do not earn enough to afford a full-priced subscription. Among low-income residents, 67 percent pay $51 or more for their monthly home internet bill but only 24 percent are willing to pay this much for the speed and reliability they require. Already, there are many residents who are just above the ACP qualification threshold, but do not earn enough to afford a full-priced subscription. A lack of qualification was cited as the primary reason among low-income residents for not enrolling in the ACP.

For covered households, a lack of home internet is a barrier to education and employment opportunities. Residents are not able to access training or other educational opportunities to build skills or earn certifications or degrees; they cannot search for and apply for jobs, which are increasingly posted online and require online applications; they cannot accept work-from-home positions; and they cannot use online platforms—like eBay, Etsy, or other sites—for supplemental income. A lack of home internet is also a barrier to healthcare and government services, which have largely shifted resources online—telehealth appointments, chat features in electronic health records to communicate with providers, and benefit program applications, among other examples. Beyond these more practical reasons, these residents want home internet for social connections, entertainment, and play.

Aging individuals

 Aging individuals are those 60 years of age or older. As many older adults are urged online, they often lack an understanding of the value of connectivity. They are also fearful of scams and generally mistrust technology. The high cost of subscriptions, coupled with this lack of understanding and mistrust, makes spending money on broadband a low priority. The cost of service is also increasingly an issue for older adults on fixed incomes.

Shame and embarrassment are other common themes among aging individuals. Older adults are knowledgeable and highly skilled in other arenas, but often lack digital skills. The shame or embarrassment of not being able to use a device or engage with a program online may keep these individuals from making attempts. Negative experiences with impatient family members or caregivers exacerbate these feelings and may make older adults hesitant to reach out for support.

A lack of digital skills can be a significant barrier to older job seekers and often limits social engagement opportunities and overall quality of life.

Individuals who primarily reside in a rural area

Lack of infrastructure remains the number one need in rural areas. Topography across Ohio’s Appalachian region, as well as low population density across all of Ohio’s rural areas, make these areas costly and generally less desirable for internet service providers to build to. Where some infrastructure does exist, the high cost of line extension fees to connect directly to a home is often prohibitive for households.

Where broadband infrastructure does exist, often the quality diminishes the farther residents live from more densely populated town centers. Over half (51%) of residents in rural areas experience unreliable home internet at least weekly and (50%) cite a lack of alternative options and speed as their biggest issues. Residents will often have to travel to a library or other community anchor institution to access reliable broadband. In many rural communities, a lack of public transportation or walkable community infrastructure––like sidewalks and well-lit paths––makes travel difficult for residents who live in more remote areas. This makes accessing community institutions for digital skills training or devices difficult as well. Without large retailers or organizations that refurbish devices, the high cost of devices has residents relying on device lending programs at these locations.

Alternative connectivity solutions, when deployed in rural communities, have limitations as well. Satellite and wireless technologies are unreliable and often cost-prohibitive. Residents have described having access to service only in the fall or winter months when leaves can’t interfere with signals.

Individuals with Disabilities

Assistive technology is revolutionizing life for individuals with disabilities. Without broadband infrastructure and affordable home subscriptions, these technologies cannot be utilized in the home. Where infrastructure does exist, reliability—ensuring, in turn, that devices are connected and working properly—remains a concern. Medicaid waivers and other affordability programs help offset costs for technologies but do not help with the home internet subscriptions required to use them.

Digital skills are often a significant barrier to individuals with disabilities seeking jobs and educational opportunities. There are also concerns about digital safety and preventing online scams and other threats among this population. Website and device accessibility is also a major factor—color, size and layout of text, incompatibility with screen readers, and lack of interpretations for media can make websites inaccessible for individuals with visual or auditory disabilities. Other individuals with disabilities may have difficulty holding a mouse, using keyboards, or sitting at a device for long periods of time. Furthermore, access to the technology and hardware that addresses these barriers is often hindered by their costs.

Having a reliable, home internet connection, digital skills, and access to devices allow individuals with disabilities to obtain work opportunities, education, and healthcare and live on their own more independently.


Veterans often struggle with a lack of awareness of and skills to navigate available veteran services. Most applications and benefits have migrated online and require digital skills to navigate.

Internet access is particularly challenging for houseless or housing-unstable veterans. Supporting housing for veterans is a top priority for many veteran-serving organizations. These organizations often provide support with rent and utilities by request, but rarely, if ever, get requests to support internet bills. This may indicate that many veterans are for going home internet subscriptions.

Incarcerated or Recently Incarcerated Individuals

Recent initiatives have improved access to broadband and devices in state prisons, but many incarcerated individuals outside of state facilities or those who had limited access previously, struggle with digital skills upon reentry. The rapid pace of technological change is most apparent for those who have spent years isolated from it in institutions without these initiatives.

Apps like JPay offer correctional services – money transfer, e-mail, videos, and music – to connect incarcerated individuals to their families. While facilities may offer connectivity, these apps rely on families to have reliable connections as well, which is not always available. Additionally, apps are often expensive, and people worry about the online safety and security of their personal information.

Upon reentry, the availability of and access to community spaces with public internet can be a challenge and may be unreliable where it is available. The cost of home internet subscriptions is often significant, given the other basic needs and priorities of returning citizens.

Individuals who are members of a racial or ethnic minority group

Racial and ethnic minorities tend to live in and around Ohio’s urban centers, where affordability is a key barrier to access and devices. In a 2020 analysis by the Brookings Institution, the “average broadband adoption rate for households in Cleveland’s majority-white neighborhoods is 81.2 percent,” whereas “the average is just 63 percent in Black-majority neighborhoods”, highlighting the broadband racial disparity in Ohio’s second largest city.

The lack of competition among internet service providers is often cited as a reason for high costs. Thirty-six percent of African American residents cite price and one third-cite the lack of alternate options as their biggest issues. Where services are available, they are often unreliable or otherwise of low quality. Thirty-six percent of African American residents experience unreliable home internet at least weekly. Many individuals who have devices say they are old or unreliable, but they are unable to afford to upgrade them.

Another concern is access to public spaces that provide broadband, devices, digital skills training, and tech support. Many locations closed during the pandemic and have either remained closed or have been slow to reopen or have consolidated locations, so there are fewer resources available across communities. Additionally, marketing these spaces and services to these specific populations is crucial. Ohio is increasingly home to more racial and ethnic diversity who may use different communication channels and methods for outreach to connect.

Individuals with a language barrier, including individuals who are English learners and those who have low levels of literacy

English language learners include Ohio’s New American population. Statewide, 5 percent of Ohio residents are foreign-born, with greater concentrations in and around Ohio’s larger urban centers. For these individuals, language barriers often exacerbate the digital divide.

Many English language learners have limited English language proficiency, which is a barrier to accessing some devices, resources, benefits, and technical support. These residents feel uncomfortable going to places for support that don’t speak their language. During and after the pandemic, many physical locations that provided support to these communities closed and have been slow to reopen. Without these spaces, residents don’t have anywhere to go if they are digitally excluded. There is a demand for an increased number of social workers and service providers who speak different languages to facilitate meaningful engagement and support within these communities.

Compared to 66 percent of all survey respondents who believe they have sufficient device access, only 48 percent of English Language Learners believe they have sufficient device access in their households. English Language Learners are also the least confident with adjusting privacy settings on social media, adjusting privacy settings on social media, and accessing government services in comparison to other tasks related to internet usage.

Digital Equity Strategy and Objectives

Ohio’s key strategies for closing the digital divide center around continued support to regional and local partners. In alignment with this ethos, the 2023 Broadband Strategy priorities, and Ohio’s Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program goals and objectives, below are Ohio’s key strategies for digital opportunity.

Strategy: Continued Stakeholder Engagement

  • Objective: Foster partnerships with local media outlets, community organizations, and influencers to amplify the message of digital opportunity, reaching diverse audiences across the state.
  • Objective: Develop a user-friendly digital inclusion asset mapping tool to provide easy access to programs, services, and other resources for Ohioans.

Strategy: Expand Broadband Infrastructure

  • Objective: Align planned activities across Digital Equity Act and BEAD programs to ensure equitable deployment of resources to bring reliable, affordable, high-speed internet to all Ohioans, in their homes and communities.

Strategy: Increase Access to Affordable Broadband

  • Objective: Support organizations in advocacy efforts for policies and incentives that encourage competition in the broadband market, leading to more affordable and accessible internet options for all Ohioans.
  • Objective: Support organizations in ACP Outreach efforts to increase statewide enrollment from 49 percent to 55 percent.

Strategy: Increase Access to Digital Skills Training and Technical Support, including Training and Support around Privacy, Security & Safety

  • Objective: Support organizations in developing and implementing digital skills programming in underserved communities, aiming to increase digital skills proficiency among Ohioans.
  • Objective: Support organizations in increasing the Digital Navigator workforce to provide digital skills training and technical support in libraries, community centers, and other key locations in underserved communities across Ohioans.

Strategy: Increase access to Affordable Devices

  • Objective: Develop a statewide device ecosystem to increase access to affordable devices for Ohioans that meet users’ needs.
  • Objective: Collaborate with large companies to invest in digital equity projects, leveraging corporate resources and expertise to amplify the impact of public initiatives. This may include in-kind support, like hardware donations, for a device ecosystem.

Strategy: Accessibility & Inclusivity of Public Resources & Services

  • Objective: Encourage organizations to adopt web accessibility policies to ensure the inclusivity of public resources and services.



  • Develop and finalize Ohio’s Digital Opportunity Plan based on stakeholder engagement efforts and public feedback
  • Collect initial and final reports from Digital Inclusion Pilot Project grantees for inclusion in Ohio’s Digital Opportunity Plan
  • Continue regular meetings of Ohio’s Regional Digital Inclusion Alliance lead organizations


  • Apply for State Digital Equity Capacity Grant funding
  • Continue developing state asset inventory & mapping tool
  • Release statewide competitive grant opportunity & select grantees
  • Develop tracking mechanisms for measurable progress
  • Continue regular meetings of Ohio’s RDIA lead organizations


  • Continue developing state asset inventory & mapping tool
  • Continue regular meetings of Ohio’s RDIA lead organizations
  • Host Ohio Digital Opportunity Summit
  • Collect reporting from grantees


  • Continue developing state asset inventory & mapping tool
  • Continue regular meetings of Ohio’s RDIA lead organizations
  • Host Ohio Digital Opportunity Summit
  • Collect reporting from grantees


  • Continue developing state asset inventory & mapping tool
  • Continue regular meetings of Ohio’s RDIA lead organizations
  • Host Ohio Digital Opportunity Summit
  • Collect reporting from grantees


  • Continue developing state asset inventory & mapping tool
  • Continue regular meetings of Ohio’s Regional Digital Inclusion Alliance lead organizations
  • Host Ohio Digital Opportunity Summit
  • Collect reporting from grantees


  • Continue developing state asset inventory & mapping tool
  • Continue regular meetings of Ohio’s Regional Digital Inclusion Alliance lead organizations
  • Host Ohio Digital Opportunity Summit
  • Collect final reporting from grantees


  • Evaluate impact & publish report
  • Host Ohio Digital Opportunity Summit

BroadbandOhio Works Toward Digital Equity

To develop Ohio’s Digital Opportunity Plan, BroadbandOhio took a comprehensive, multi-layered approach to collaboration and stakeholder engagement. BroadbandOhio leveraged existing stakeholders, developed new relationships, and used multiple outreach channels. This approach ensures that the plan represents all Ohioans, with a special focus on covered populations. Through ongoing partnerships and participation in listening sessions and surveys, over 5,500 stakeholders have already contributed to building the plan and Ohio’s key strategies for closing the digital divide. These stakeholders represent state government agencies, local government agencies, internet service providers, community-based nonprofits, and residents, among others.

For more information, visit BroadbandOhio.

More in this series:

The Benton Institute for Broadband & Society is a non-profit organization dedicated to ensuring that all people in the U.S. have access to competitive, High-Performance Broadband regardless of where they live or who they are. We believe communication policy - rooted in the values of access, equity, and diversity - has the power to deliver new opportunities and strengthen communities.

© Benton Institute for Broadband & Society 2023. Redistribution of this email publication - both internally and externally - is encouraged if it includes this copyright statement.

For subscribe/unsubscribe info, please email headlinesATbentonDOTorg

Kevin Taglang

Kevin Taglang
Executive Editor, Communications-related Headlines
Benton Institute
for Broadband & Society
1041 Ridge Rd, Unit 214
Wilmette, IL 60091
headlines AT benton DOT org

Share this edition:

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society Benton Institute for Broadband & Society Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

Benton Institute for Broadband & Society

Broadband Delivers Opportunities and Strengthens Communities

By Grace Tepper.