New Legislation Will Help Expand Rural Broadband Access in Florida

The 2021 session of the Florida Legislature adjourned last week after chalking up an assortment of legislative accomplishments that are poised to have a positive impact on the Sunshine State. That includes the passage of HB 1239, the Broadband Infrastructure Act, which will make important strides toward clearing obstacles to the expansion of high-speed internet.

Sponsored by State Representative Josie Tomkow and State Senator Danny Burgess, HB 1239 takes aim at a key issue: broadband providers’ access to utility poles and their ability to attach new infrastructure to poles. Representative Tomkow and Senator Burgess, both of whom represent unserved constituencies, some of whom are struggling without adequate broadband service, championed this issue on behalf of their constituents and all Floridians who understand the important role that internet access plays in their everyday lives.

The bill addresses this issue by establishing a more equitable division of costs for replacing pole infrastructure needed to install broadband more quickly, and by reducing the annual rate for broadband providers to attach their networks to poles owned by municipal electric companies in unserved areas. It also builds in a funding mechanism for current and future broadband projects by directing the Florida Office of Broadband to create a strategic plan to increase broadband service and establishes a grant program for providers trying to reach unserved communities. These changes will help connect more Floridians quickly, including many schools, businesses, farmers, and families in rural and hard-to-reach areas of the state.

Florida is a leader when it comes to broadband access, with service available to about 97 percent of residents according to federal estimates. As we get closer to covering those last few percentages of homes and businesses still without adequate service, the remaining barriers tend to be among the toughest to overcome. Fortunately, the passage of HB 1239 shows that Florida legislators are up to the challenge.

With a renewed focus on broadband expansion, lawmakers can – and should – carry this momentum forward by addressing the remaining barriers to connectivity in unserved communities, where nearly 804,000 Floridians still lack access to a high-speed internet connection.

Taken together, these efforts are promising steps toward building a more prosperous future for all Floridians and closing the state’s digital divide for good.

To read CTF Florida’s full statement on the passage of HB 1239, please see here.