LEVELING THE PLAYING FIELD FOR ALL BROADBAND STAKEHOLDERS
Over the last few years, the Florida Legislature, Governor DeSantis, and the Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) have made tremendous progress empowering broadband providers to expand high-speed internet access to unserved areas across the Sunshine State. Key to that progress was the creation of a $400 million Broadband Opportunity Program, and the legislature’s efforts to make it easier and less costly for broadband providers to place new equipment on utility poles owned by municipal electric utilities.
Moving forward, additional steps must be taken to ensure a level playing field exists for all stakeholders, including for rural electric cooperatives seeking to enter the broadband business. After being largely absent in this space, several co-ops in Florida are now partnering with the Florida Rural Electric Cooperative Consortium (or Conexon) to participate in state and federal broadband programs. Unfortunately, they’re not operating under the same rules as public, investor-owned utilities or municipal electric utilities and have an unfair advantage that could discourage others from investing in Florida broadband expansion. These conditions are also incentivizing certain pole owners to potentially block access this vital infrastructure.
Legislation introduced by Sen. Nick DiCeglie (R-Pinellas County) and Rep. Josie Tomkow (R-Polk City) will ensure that all poles owned by electric cooperatives are subject to the same regulations as those owned by public utilities. This simple fix will create a level playing field for all broadband providers, promote greater competition, and will ultimately improve the conditions for rapidly expanding high-speed internet access to unserved communities.