TWO RECOMMENDATIONS TO INVEST IN BROADBAND
Did you know that unused federal funding is available to expand broadband buildout? Within the American Rescue Plan Act, Congress allocated $366 million to the Florida state treasury under the Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund to support broadband infrastructure projects. If responsibly and effectively allocated, broadband expansion projects in unserved and underserved areas are within reach.
Connect The Future is advocating for two common-sense plans to best utilize the federal funds available to Florida. We strongly encourage Governor DeSantis and the Florida Legislature to act swiftly on these recommendations which will usher in a rapid advancement in the expansion of broadband infrastructure throughout our state.
#1: CREATE A BROADBAND INFRASTRUCTURE POLE UPGRADE PROGRAM
Utility poles play a critical role in advancing broadband expansion into unserved areas. Often times, broadband providers seek to attach to multiple utility poles in rural areas just to serve one home. This presents a major, costly problem as many of these old utility poles need to be replaced to handle new broadband attachments. Establishing a broadband infrastructure pole upgrade program would dedicate $100 million in federal relief money given to Florida to aid in the removal of an existing utility pole and replacement with a new utility pole that can accommodate broadband and other existing attachments. This would help streamline the process by which internet service providers build out network infrastructure in areas where there is no broadband.
Other states have established similar programs. For example, in June 2021, Texas established a pole replacement fund for broadband deployment in unserved areas, and the legislature recently allocated $75 million for this purpose. That is excellent news for Texas, but Florida should be leading the way!
#2: FUND THE DEPARTMENT OF ECONOMIC OPPORTUNITY’S BROADBAND OPPORTUNITY PROGRAM
Created in 2021 when Governor DeSantis signed the Broadband Deployment Act of 2021 (HB 1239) into law, this program equips the Florida Department of Economic Opportunity’s Office of Broadband with the ability to award grants to applicants seeking to expand broadband to unserved areas. However, this program is currently unfunded.
Investing $400 million* into the Broadband Opportunity Program would stimulate investment in Florida’s broadband infrastructure and deliver reliable, high-speed broadband access to the communities still living on the wrong side of the digital divide. Many states have created similar programs at a range of funding levels. For example:
- Illinois: $424 million
- Indiana: $270 million
- Kentucky: $300 million
- Massachusetts: $100 million
- Minnesota: $70 million
- Texas: $425.5 million
Fully utilizing the federal dollars made available to Florida by funding the Broadband Opportunity Program is a common-sense solution to address disparities in broadband access. That is why Connect The Future is calling on Governor DeSantis and the Legislature to prioritize this program.
*The remaining $134 million recommended can be spent from general American Rescue Plan dollars that are sitting in the state treasury