As a member of the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee it has provided me an up close perspective on the much needed expansion of broadband to rural Nebraska. To help foster the expansion of broadband availability in the state I joined the Nebraska Information Technology Commission (NITC).
The NITC, with its Network Nebraska initiative, has made major improvements in expanding access to broadband in schools, public libraries and government buildings. By leveraging volume, the contracts entered into with broadband providers provide higher speeds and better access to the Internet. In 2019, Network Nebraska successfully reached 100% participation from Nebraska schools while also significantly lowering the monthly costs those schools pay for Internet access.
In 2018, LB944 created the Rural Broadband Task Force, in addition to other provisions to increase Broadband access in rural areas of Nebraska. I was selected by the legislature’s Executive Board to serve on the Task Force. Its goal is to identify issues regarding broadband expansion in the state and provide recommendations on how to overcome obstacles in achieving its goals. Last fall, the task force issued its first report and recommendations.
This year, I cosponsored LB992, which was drafted to implement many of the Task Force recommendations. Provisions of the bill would allow public power providers and their partners to access existing electrical easements in order to expand broadband infrastructure. Another provision would create a State Broadband Coordinator to utilize our existing resources in making broadband more readily available in areas that need it.
The Nebraska Public Service Commission is also continuing to fine-tune provisions passed in 2018 to provide for reverse auctions in exchanges where the existing provider refuses to improve service. In those areas, a reverse auction could be held and the lowest bidder will become the new provider to expand broadband infrastructure.
The Federal Communication Commission has also made $20 billion in grant funding available to expand broadband access in rural America. The grant will be implemented in two phases. First, $16 billion to areas that have no high-speed internet service. The second phase focuses on underserved households.
LB996 allows the Nebraska Public Service Commission to create a broadband data crowdsourcing program in order to collect more accurate data on broadband availability. This will help communities identify underserved areas and will qualify them for phase 2 of the grant. I am supporting this bill for passage when we resume the session. It could open Nebraska to much needed funding opportunities.
Governor Ricketts has allocated $40 million the state received through the CARES Act for a new grant program called the Rural Broadband Remote Access Grant. This grant is available to broadband service providers to expand access in communities where the majority of resident do not have high-speed internet access.
We encourage everyone in your support of each other as we continue to address COVID-19. Please contact my office with your comments, concerns or questions by phoning 402-471-2719 or email at email@example.com.
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