A Busy Year for State Broadband Legislation

One of the more interesting ways to see the degree to which broadband has grown in importance around the country is to look at the volume of legislation that has been proposed around the country this year. This website from the National Conference of State Legislators shows the status of the many broadband bills that have been introduced in state legislatures.

Of course, much of the legislation didn’t pass, but that’s true of all types of legislation. In the typical state legislative session, there are usually hundreds of bills proposed but only a small fraction that are approved.

There is an interesting chart at the beginning of the report that categorizes the various pieces of broadband legislation. As might be expected, the biggest category of proposed laws is aimed at solving the rural broadband divide. The next big category is funding, and a lot of state legislatures this year allocated money to help solve the digital divide.

The best thing about this website to me is that it’s linked to all of the various bills. Anybody who is interested in improving broadband in their state can likely find proposed bills on this list that provide a jump start for proposing new legislation.

I’ve always found proposed legislation to be fascinating. Many bills are proposed every year that have no chance of being passed, but for which the bill’s author wants to make a political point. There are other bills that get introduced year-after-year, with the author hoping that the time to consider an idea will eventually come.

Not all bills are pro-broadband. There are plenty of bills found in this list that were likely penned by industry lobbyists who are hoping to tamp down competition for the big ISPs.

A policy person could skim through the proposed legislation all day. Here are a few of the more interesting and typical bills I found on the list:

  • Arkansas SB 74 makes it easier for municipalities to partner with existing ISPs. There were laws proposed in other states that make it harder for municipalities to participate in getting better broadband.
  • California AB 34 would create a $10 billion state broadband fund for solving the rural broadband gap, upon approval of the voters.
  • Connecticut HB 6167 would create residential broadband as a public utility and all rate increases would have to be approved by the Public Utilities Regulatory Authority. I’m surprised that some state hasn’t tried this.
  • Florida SB 1944. This was one of several Florida laws that are aimed at modifying regulations for pole attachments. This is a common theme with most bills aimed at making it easier for fiber providers of 5G companies to get access to poles.
  • Illinois HB 3275 established a State Low Income Assistance Program that would provide a $9.95 monthly subsidy for qualifying homes to help pay for broadband.
  • Indiana HB 1522 creates a state broadband map to contrast with the FCC’s faulty maps. There are similar initiatives in other states.
  • Maine LD 80 permanently assigns 33% of sales and use tax revenues to be used to deploy broadband infrastructure.
  • Michigan HB 4210 was vetoed by the Governor and would have given tax breaks to ISPs. There are similar attempts every year by ISPs across the country.
  • Missouri HB 321 allows electric companies to own and operate broadband infrastructure.
  • Virginia SB 1434 requires that any school board that requires virtual learning must provide the needed technology to students.
  • Washington SB 5439 institutes a dig once policy for state highways. Similar bills are contemplated or passed in other states.

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