States push for broadband as American jobs plan gains steam

By Katya Maruri, Government Technology, Tribune Content Agency

Apr. 5—An infusion of federal money to expand broadband throughout the country could soon be headed to communities in need if Congress passes President Biden’s $100 billion Internet plan. The question is what do states do until then?

According to a fact sheet released by the White House, the plan would reduce Internet prices for all Americans, increase adoption in rural and urban areas, hold providers accountable and save taxpayers money. The plan would also require broadband providers to disclose their monthly Internet pricing and would attempt to remove barriers to competition and level the playing field for providers.

Broadband is infrastructure. — President Biden (@POTUS) April 5, 2021

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In the meantime, several states have already crafted legislation to address the digital divide. For example, a Kentucky’s recently approved House Bill 320 will allocate $250 million toward expanding broadband throughout the state, “ensuring broadband access to thousands of underserved and unserved Kentuckians,” Rep. Brian Reed, one of the bill’s co-sponsors, said.

According to the legislation, broadband services will be market-based and will allow electric cooperatives to access federal funding to extend and enhance the availability of broadband to Kentucky residents. Vermont’s H.360 would direct $150 million toward creating an “accountable, coordinated solution to providing universal access to broadband service throughout the state,” Rep. Tim Briglin said in an email.

To achieve this end, the bill would direct funds toward fiber build-out throughout the state, establishing a Vermont Community Broadband Authority to oversee the state’s broadband expansion efforts and create a broadband workforce development program in partnership with Vermont Technical College and the Vermont Department of Labor. In Indiana, House Bill 1449 is aimed at refining the process of awarding grants from the state’s rural broadband fund to projects that would provide Internet access to schools, rural health clinics and other underserved areas throughout the state.

To do this, Indiana Rep. Edmond Soliday said it would take “$3 billion to reach everyone and provide reasonably fast Internet.” The state, he said, currently has about $6 billion set aside for broadband expansion initiatives.

And lastly, Montana’s House Bill 657 would set up a rural broadband revolving loan account with up to $200 million deposited into the account from money received through the American Rescue Plan Act to provide broadband access to rural areas throughout the state.

One way the bill would achieve this, Rep. Tyson Running Wolf said, is by creating more jobs related to building out and maintaining fiber-optic lines to help close the state’s broadband and tech gap. “The most important thing is coming up with a way to efficiently provide broadband access to those in unserved and underserved areas,” Soliday said. “That’s what it’s all about.”

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