New James Madison Institute Report Outlines Policy Paths Forward to Expanding Broadband Access in Florida

Florida’s leaders have cultivated an environment that welcomes broadband infrastructure investment, and the results are clear: nearly 96 percent of Floridians have access to reliable, high-speed broadband. However, there are still more than 804,000 Floridians that remain on the wrong side of the digital divide, and many of them live in the state’s rural communities.

In a recently released report, the James Madison Institute outlined principled policy recommendations aimed at accelerating broadband deployment to existing unserved “last-mile” communities in Florida. Specifically, the report highlighted the importance of legislation over regulation as a means to implement and achieve effective solutions in the effort to promote greater broadband expansion throughout the state.

The report summarized three specific policy proposals to build upon Florida’s continued success of quality broadband public policy:

Reform pole attachments process in the state.

A major barrier to increased broadband infrastructure deployment in Florida is the current pole attachment process for broadband providers. The process of attaching broadband cables to utility poles involves permitting, renting space for equipment, and often replacing poles, all of which require significant costs that pole owners – such as utilities and municipal co-ops – force upon the broadband providers or “pole attachers.”  One policy prescription identified by the report recommends that, “at the least, replacement or upgrade costs should be fairly distributed between pole owners and those who seek to attach new equipment.”

Additionally, it identifies often contradicting local, state, and federal laws pertaining to utility poles, which creates further confusion and costly delays for broadband providers, and notes that these issues must be addressed to encourage greater deployment of broadband infrastructure.

Implement a sales tax exemption on telecommunications and broadband equipment.

Florida currently levies a sales tax on equipment used to deploy broadband infrastructure, which disincentivizes investment in broadband service expansion.  To counter this negative outcome, the James Madison Institute champions for a sales tax exemption on telecommunications and broadband equipment aimed at lowering costs to incent greater broadband infrastructure buildouts in Florida.  The benefits of implementing such exemption include lower prices for consumers and greater availability of broadband services and products.  

  • Reject government-owned networks.

Municipalities in Florida, such as Orlando, have previously attempted to either set up their own communications networks or partner with private companies to enter the broadband market. Yet, these efforts have almost always failed, as governments quickly realize that technological innovation far outpaces their own abilities to maintain and adapt complex technological platforms; making it difficult for a government controlled entity to compete in a modern marketplace. Broadband service providers fueled by private investment continue to provide the best opportunity to maximize the reach of and access to broadband.   

The good news is that the Florida legislature has introduced House Bill 1239 and Senate Bill 1592 this session, both of which address existing barriers to broadband deployment. House Bill 1239 in particular requires that access to and use of utility poles by broadband service providers be reformed to explicitly follow existing federal laws and regulations.  The bill would also exempt sales and use taxes on certain equipment purchased, leased, or sold by providers of internet access services to further incentivize the buildout of broadband infrastructure.

If passed, these two bills will play a critical role in connecting Florida’s rural communities by encouraging investment to expand broadband deployment to every corner of the state.