Highlights from the Field: April 2021
April was a busy month in continuing the critical work to encourage state legislators, policymakers, and key stakeholders to break down existing barriers that stand in the way of expanding broadband access to the millions of unserved rural homes and businesses in states across the country.
- Coalition supporters from Connect the Future (CTF) conducted a virtual ‘fly-in,’ meeting with leaders of both the House and Senate rural broadband caucuses. The meetings included seven offices, 10 congressional aides, and coalition supporters from Charter Communications, National Grange, National Latino Farmers and Ranchers Trade Association, National Rural Education Association, Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition, and the Black Farmers and Ranchers New Mexico. The ‘fly-in’ meetings introduced the group’s shared mission to leaders on Capitol Hill, expanded the dialogue with congressional staff on solutions to expand broadband connectivity, and shared the importance of including in an infrastructure package provisions to ensure a fast, fair process for utility pole access, replacements, and dispute resolutions for broadband infrastructure – as outlined in a recent letter from 27 coalition supporters.
- Focus on Rural America published a new op-ed in the Des Moines Register, arguing that first and foremost, expanded broadband infrastructure deployment must target unserved areas, writing that “policymakers should also eliminate existing barriers to rural broadband deployment, especially those that unnecessarily increase the cost of serving rural America. One major barrier to broadband deployment stems from the outdated, costly, and time-consuming process of utility pole attachments. While utility poles are the lifeblood of our nation, they cannot bring all Americans — particularly those in rural areas — online without major pole attachment regulation reforms.” Read the full op-ed here.
- Florida State Legislature passes the Broadband Infrastructure Act (HB 1239), led by Rep. Josie Tomkow and Sen. Danny Burgess. The Act “takes important strides toward addressing obstacles to the expansion of high-speed internet service. By clearing the way for broadband providers to install equipment on utility poles owned by municipalities and establishing a funding mechanism for current and future broadband projects, this legislation will help to connect more Floridians, more quickly.” The bill now awaits signature from Governor Ron DeSantis. If signed, the law will go into effect on July 1. Read the full statement here.
- Charter Communications brought a “Real Rural Tech Talk” and 4-H essay competition to Escambia County with Florida CFO Jimmy Patronis. The roundtable also included guests from the University of Florida and the Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences 4-H Youth Development Program, who discussed the current opportunities and challenges of broadband deployment, access, and adoption for unserved families and businesses in rural North Florida. Read more about event here.
- Kari Collins, the Executive Director of Red Bird Mission, penned an op-ed in the Lexington Herald-Leader urging leaders in Frankfort to expand broadband service to rural Kentucky communities who need it most. Specifically, she called on the Kentucky Public Service Commission to enact commonsense solutions currently under review that would modernize the rules that govern how broadband providers access utility poles. Read the full op-ed here.
- Red Bird Mission also hosted a virtual discussion on rural broadband expansion efforts in Kentucky with State Senate President Robert Stivers and Charter Communications. The panelists discussed the critical role that broadband plays in rural Kentucky’s success, the resources secured to bridge the digital divide, and how the Commonwealth can ensure that unserved Kentucky families receive broadband access as quickly as possible moving forward, without delay. Read more about the event here.
- CTF Kentucky welcomed new coalition supporter Kentucky Youth Advocates (KYA). KYA is a strong supporter of common-sense solutions that allow for expanded internet access and expedited broadband infrastructure buildout throughout the Commonwealth to ensure that all children in Kentucky have all the tools they need to succeed in a rapidly changing world.
- North Carolina State Senator Ralph Hise files the County Broadband Authority Act (SB 689). The bill will “facilitate the expansion of broadband service in unserved areas of the state by ensuring timely and nondiscriminatory access to municipal and electric membership cooperative utility poles, ducts, and conduits at reasonable rates” and “authorize counties to provide grants to high-speed internet access service providers and to build facilities and equipment of a broadband service and to levy taxes for those purposes.”
- House Bill 2 Passes Ohio Senate, which would mark a significant step toward expanding broadband access to currently unserved “last mile” areas of Ohio. The bill would provide $20 million “Residential Broadband Expansion Program” with grants to offset construction and costs to facilitate expansion of high-speed internet. The bill now heads back to the House to reconcile amendments from the Senate. Learn more about the bill here.
- CTF South Carolina officially launched its new coalition website, which includes a diverse array of supporters, such as the South Carolina Cable Television Association, the Columbia Chamber of Commerce, Greater Cayce West Columbia Chamber of Commerce, Palmetto Care Connections, and Palmetto Family Council. Visit the website here.
- Robert Scott, founder of the Texas Rural Broadband Coalition, penned an op-ed in the Amarillo Globe-News where he called for expanded broadband access in the state to secure a healthier, educated, and more prosperous future for rural Texas communities. Read the full op-ed here.
- Walt Baum, President of the Texas Cable Association, authored a letter to the editor at the Dallas Morning News calling on Governor Greg Abbott and Texas legislators to support House Bill 1505, sponsored by State Representative Chris Paddie. The bill would streamline pole attachment processes, reduce delays, rein in excessive costs, and ultimately help rural Texans get the broadband access they need. Read the full letter here.