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More states target broadband to drive rural economic growth

April 19, 2018

In February, SSTI highlighted several state-led efforts to address the rural broadband gap, which affects more than 30 percent of rural America who currently lack access to adequate broadband service. The states’ efforts should help revitalize rural communities by aiding small business formation and manufacturers’ expansion, and improve educational achievement/workforce training for local citizens. As some state legislative sessions wrap up, several more governors and state lawmakers have created new initiatives to address this significant issue. Alabama, Colorado and Washington provide the most recent examples of new commitments, including some reversing bans on public broadband provision when the private market fails to deliver.

Alabama

In late March, Gov. Kay Ivey announced the creation of the Alabama Broadband Accessibility Fund that will award grants of up to $1.4 million for internet service providers (ISPs) and telecom companies willing to build broadband infrastructure in communities across the state suffering from poor broadband access. Administered by Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA), the grants will only be eligible to projects in geographic areas defined by the state as underserved — any rural area in which there is not at least one ISP company providing the state’s minimum service threshold of 10 Mbps/1 Mbps.

Colorado

On April 2, Colorado Gov. John Hickenlooper signed three pieces of legislation to rearrange the funding mechanisms for state investment in rural broadband. Statescoop reports the new funding sources could reach up to $150 million over the next five years to support the buildout of broadband infrastructures. In addition to new funding for broadband deployment, the state also will set new broadband speed minimums for download and upload speeds. Although the state minimum for new projects still does not reach the FCC standards considered adequate broadband speeds, other mechanisms in the legislation are intended to encourage ISPs to achieve the 25 Mbps/3 Mbps threshold.

The new legislation also provides a window of opportunity for municipalities to address inadequate broadband access if the state’s largest ISPs do not. Previously, Colorado telecom companies were allowed to block local governments (in their service areas) from providing grant funding to build broadband infrastructure without matching the service/price proposed by the competing ISP. Moving forward, the adjustment will require that ISPs who invoke a ‘right of first refusal’ must match both the speed and price found in the initial offer.

Washington

Washington Gov. Jay Inslee signed into law a bill to support the creation of broadband infrastructure in rural communities across the state. Through the new act, the state’s 75 port districts will be given telecommunications authority including the ability to build open access broadband networks. Advocates hope that increased access to open broadband infrastructure will encourage private sector telecom or internet service providers to move into typically underserved communities.

 

Alabama, Colorado, Washingtonbroadband