House Advances Broadband Expansion Bills
Mike Seals - March 12, 2021 11:02 am
OKLAHOMA CITY – The House of Representatives advanced a slate of broadband expansion legislation this week laying the groundwork for comprehensive improvements to the state’s lagging internet infrastructure over the next decade.
As a package, the bills offer state incentives and grants to broadband providers, establish ways to maximize existing and future infrastructure, update broadband terms in state law, and add important stakeholders to the council developing long-term broadband plans.
“These bills are a strong foundation to get faster, cheaper internet to all Oklahomans – especially in rural areas with no internet at all,” said House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka. “It won’t be easy or happen overnight, but the House is committed to doing its part to deliver broadband to all Oklahomans.”
Expanding rural broadband is a multibillion dollar, multi-decade endeavor nearly every state is undertaking. Billions of federal dollars are being made available to internet providers to build out infrastructure. State and local policies and incentives also play a large role.
“Harnessing those substantial federal dollars with strong state policies and targeted state incentives is the fastest, most efficient path to get broadband to the many places lacking it in Oklahoma,” said Rep. Logan Phillips, R-Mounds, chairman of the House Technology Committee. “Oklahoma was falling behind in broadband development and access, but we are making an aggressive course correction with this package of bills and others to come, on top of federal efforts. It’s an all-hands-on-deck approach.”
Oklahoma is ranked 47th nationally for rural access to broadband. A 2017 report by the Oklahoma State University Extension Office found approximately 30% of Oklahoma households had no type of internet connection at home.
Additionally, there is a significant digital divide between rural and urban parts of the state, with 72% of urban households connected to broadband and only 48% of rural households connected. The rural/urban broadband gap of 24 percentage points is the largest among Oklahoma’s neighboring states.
“Lack of broadband development hurts rural Oklahoma and makes the entire state less competitive when attracting businesses to grow our economy. Expanding broadband received strong bipartisan support in the House because it has statewide benefits in so many areas, from the economy to the education system to healthcare to overall quality of life,” Phillips said.
Phillips is co-chair, along with Sen. James Leewright, R-Bristow, of the Rural Broadband Expansion Council, a diverse group of stakeholders formed last session to develop broadband expansion plans for Oklahoma.
“The House will continue bringing all parties to the table to develop actionable, achievable plans,” McCall said. “I appreciate the contributions of all the stakeholders and House members working on this significant long-term effort.”
Broadband bills advancing to Senate
- HB 2040, by McCall, creates a sales and use tax rebate for new broadband equipment used to deliver service in unserved or underserved areas. A maximum of $20 million would be rebated for projects in 2022, with $15 million allocated for rural areas and $5 million for urban areas. It passed 85-14.
- HB 2090, by McCall, adds a tribal representative and wireless internet service provider to the Rural Broadband Expansion Council, establishes 25 megabits per second download and 3 megabits per second upload as the minimum speeds offered to be considered broadband service, and defines terms like “underserved” and “unserved” for the purpose of mapping and incentive awards. It also directs the council to develop strategic parameters for state incentive awards for consideration next session. It passed 97-0.
- HB 2928, by McCall, requires providers to submit data for mapping all broadband assets in the state. It passed 98-0.
- HB 1124, by Phillips, establishes a broadband grant program at the Commerce Department. It passed 91-6.
- HB 1122, by Phillips, HB 1923, by Rep. Ryan Martinez, R-Edmond, and HB 2779, by Rep. John Pfeiffer, R-Orlando, all address opportunities for broadband and other attachments to utility poles. Further details of the measures will continue to be developed through the legislative process.