With Economy in Mind, Governors and Legislative Sessions Focus on Broadband

Since state legislatures around the country have started their sessions in 2012, legislators and governors alike have been recognizing the importance of broadband (or high speed Internet) to growing state economies. Governors in states as diverse as Hawaii, Maryland, Missouri, and Wyoming highlighted broadband initiatives in their state of the state speeches, as more and more of our leaders are realizing that without broadband, the U.S. economy is not going to produce jobs or the highly-skilled workers needed to compete in a global marketplace.

To understand the problem we are facing as a nation, a few key facts are essential. According to the most recent data from the Department of Commerce, in a nation of over 300 million people, 100 million still do not have access to high speed Internet in their homes, and 28 percent of rural Americans do not use the Internet at all. While broadband might have been a luxury for gaming or streaming movies in the past, this technology is becoming as necessary as electricity was in the 1930s. For example, as states around the country prepare to implement the Affordable Care Act, a key means to obtain access to health insurance will be through web portals to online marketplaces currently being developed state-by-state and through the Department of Health and Human Services.

With that as our background, we are pleased to report on an important victory in Georgia, where SB 313, which proposed significant procedural burdens on local communities that seek to offer public broadband, has been set aside in favor of SR 994, creating a broadband availability study committee. As the Georgia Municipal Association and an array of high tech companies pointed out, SB313 would have reduced the competitiveness of Georgia’s local communities. Broadband task forces and deployment councils are a great way for legislators to make progress on this issue and you can use Progressive States Network’s model legislation as a starting point. A setback for community broadband occurred in Washington state when Representative John McCoy’s HB 1711 was unable to clear committee in time for full consideration in this legislative session. Rep. McCoy has promised to remain vigilant to see whether the private sector will be able to deploy high speed Internet where it is most needed, and remains committed to addressing this issue.

Other states also have proactive bills pending. There is bipartisan support behind SB375/AB 473 in Wisconsin, which would delay by one year last session’s legislation requiring public schools, universities and libraries to separate from WiscNet, a non-profit cooperative offering advanced broadband access to public entities. Colorado is considering identifying areas in the state where additional action is necessary to ensure universal broadband access with SB12-129. And Representative Dan Kelley in Iowa has introduced HF 2355 proposing to map wireless communications in the state.

Expanding broadband access is a serious challenge which will require all sectors to contribute — the private sector, the public sector, and the philanthropic sector. No player should be told to sit on the sidelines as we work toward adequate infrastructure for the 21st century. State legislatures can promote strong state economies by making sure that small businesses, school children and households — regardless of income, race, or rural location — have access to high speed broadband Internet.

If you are interested in these issues, please follow our Twitter feed @BroadbandPSN.

Full Resources from this Article

With Economy in Mind, Governors and Legislative Sessions Focus on Broadband

U.S. Department of Commerce - Exploring the Digital Nation: Computer and Internet Use at Home
Bloomberg - The Case for Publicly Owned Internet Service: Susan P. Crawford
Progressive States Network - Model Legislation on State Broadband Deployment Councils

This article is part of PSN's email newsletter, The Stateside Dispatch.
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