UPDATE: List of States Funding Rural Broadband Gets Even Longer

Alabama State Capitol

by Jessica Denson
Director of Communications, Connected Nation

Bowing Green, KY (May 14, 2019) – Earlier this month, Connected Nation took a closer look at the action states are taking to expand rural broadband access. Many state lawmakers are choosing to move forward now rather than wait for federal funding.

Less than two weeks later, we can add nearly another half dozen states to the list.  On May 6th, the Alabama House of Representatives passed House Bill 400. The bill, sponsored by Rep. Randall Shedd (R-AL), is titled the Telecommunications, Broadband Using Electric Easement Accessibility Act.

“We have all seen the map with whole counties in red with declining populations. Young people will not stay where they are not connected to the  worldwide web, they just won’t. Realtors says that the first question home buyers ask not is about the internet access,” he told the Alabama Political Reporter.

Lawmakers in Washington are setting aside $21.5 million of the state’s construction budget for rural broadband funding. It’s a lot of money but, according to an article in the Daily Chronicle, many investment experts say it will ultimately take $1 billion to “expand access to every region of the state.”

“I’m excited about the opportunities coming up for us,”  said county commissioner Edna Fund, noting that early efforts will likely be spotty. “I do know it’s going to take a lot of money. It’s almost like a patchwork quilt.”

Meanwhile, the Missouri Legislature has set aside $5 million for the newly-created Rural Broadband Development Fund.  In 2017, the state brought together stakeholders from private industry, government, and advocacy groups to discuss how to expand broadband access. Establishing an office to coordinate broadband deployment was among the recommendations.  Now, an Office of Broadband has been set up for the state.

Eric Bohl with the Missouri Farm Bureau writes “this new Office of Broadband, housed within the Department of Economic Development, is preparing an action plan for Missouri’s broadband deployment efforts. It is also working with the telecommunications industry and the federal government to modernize mapping of Missouri’s current broadband assets. We need to have a good understanding of what we have before we spend money to fill in the gaps.”

North Carolina recently awarded $9.8 million in grants to boost rural internet speeds. The grants are part of the Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology (GREAT) . There’s another issue in North Carolina that Connected Nation has seen elsewhere—inaccurate mapping of broadband coverage.

Jeffrey Sural, Director of the Broadband Infrastructure Office at the North Carolina Department of Information Technology, wrote the  in a blog post for WRAL TechWire:  “The most current map of broadband availability in North Carolina shows that 93.7 percent of North Carolina households have access to broadband. This implies that most North Carolina households should be able to effortlessly connect to the internet and without too much waiting or delay: run a small business, stream video, complete homework assignments, communicate with friends and family and play video games. But interactions with citizens from all parts of the state have led our office to believe this figure—93.7 percent—is wildly inaccurate.”

It’s an issue that affects states across the country. Many of the current broadband maps are either a) out of date, b) wildly overstated because the data is not granular enough, or c) both.

Having inaccurate maps means not truly understanding the scope of the problem but also misjudging where investment in broadband infrastructure will truly help those who are unserved or underserved.  It’s why mapping and community planning are key components for fulfilling Connected Nation’s mission to connect all people. To learn more about how we can help your state or community, contact us at info@connectednation.org.

Related Articles:
From Georgia to Minnesota: State Lawmakers are Taking Bipartisan Action for Rural Broadband

National Bill Would Create New Broadband Growth Office

 

 

 

 

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