Last week, OTELCO explored broadband legislation, funding, and policymaking on the federal level. This week, we are diving into broadband legislation and funding happening on the state level, with a look at the grants OTELCO has applied for in 2020.
In 2018 Governor Kay Ivey signed the Alabama Broadband Accessibility Act to strengthen connectivity in rural Alabama. Through this act, the Alabama Broadband Accessibility Fund was formed. This fund provides support to rural broadband projects, through the Alabama Department of Economic and Community Affairs (ADECA).
In May of 2019, in an effort to increase the availability of broadband access, Ivey signed Act #2019-317. This new act will broaden the eligibility pool for broadband funding from ADECA by:
- Changing the definition of an unserved from 10/1 Mbps to 25/3 Mbps
- Increasing the maximum amount of project costs that can be funded to 35%
- Increasing the maximum fiscal amount of project costs that can be funded to $1,5000,000
- Broadens the permitted use of other federal and state funding
The 2020 grant window closed on December 30, 2019. OTELCO entered a project in that grant round, to bring Lightwave fiber to the unincorporated area of Morgan City. We are still awaiting the grant results.
There is much momentum behind high-speed Internet expansion in Maine right now, including the four pieces of broadband legislation below that are making their way through the State House this session.
LD 2021 An Act To Provide Funding for Broadband Internet Infrastructure in Unserved and Underserved Areas
This act would provide a one-time appropriation of $15 million from Maine’s general fund to the ConnectME Authority. In January, the Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee heard public testimony on the $15 million appropriation. There was broad support for the funding. OTLECO submitted written testimony and was present at the hearing.
LD 2134 An Act to Authorize a General Fund Bond Issue for Infrastructure to Improve Transportation and Internet Connections
This bond was set forth by Governor Mills in 2020 to improve infrastructure for transportation and broadband access. It would provide $15 million in broadband funding to the ConnectME Authority. This bond comes after Mills’ appealed to Legislatures to recognize the increasing need for connectivity in the state during her 2020 State of the State address.
LD 173 An Act To Promote Economic Development and Critical Communications for Family Farms, Businesses and Residences by Strategic Public Investment in High-speed Internet
The goal of this act is to increase funding to the ConnectME Authority to expand high-speed Internet to rural areas of the state. The bill was amended in 2020 to take a part of the new Internet Sales Tax and dedicate it to expanding broadband. This funding would be roughly $8 million a year.
2019 General Obligation Bond
After its failure in June of 2019, Mills paired down what was a $239 million general obligation bond into four bonds totaling $163 million. In a special session called in August 2019, the Legislature passed $105 million for transportation but not the funds that would provide an additional $30 million in broadband funding to the state. This bond is still tabled in the senate.
In February 2020, the ConnectME authority released the State of Maine Broadband Action Plan, in which they stated that it would take $600 million to connect 95% of the state with high-speed Internet. According to the authority, 85,000 homes and businesses in Maine do not have access to adequate broadband speeds.
OTELCO is applying for a grant from the ConnectME authority this spring, to continue our efforts in Argyle township. The grant, along with Penobscot county TIFF funds and our own investments, would allow us to conduct further planning, and then deploy a fiber to the home network for the rural township.
Massachusetts has robust broadband access and funding. According to BroadbandNow, 98% of the state has access to 25 Mbps or faster. This is in part due to the Massachusetts Broadband Institute. The Massachusetts Broadband Institute, or MBI, was established in 2008 when Governor Deval Patrick signed the Broadband Act. As a result, they were able to fund many projects, including the MBI Middle Mile MassBroadband 123 network, which connects over 120 communities with dark fiber.
LeverettNet, the Leverett, MA municipal network, accesses fiber from the 123 Network to provide gigabit level speed to its community. OTELCO is the contracted ISP for that Network. WiVally was also awarded funding through MBI to build the FHMS network with OTELCO. In 2020, Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker filed a new $240M economic development bill, which includes $5 million for maintaining and continuing broadband infrastructure in the state.
2019 was a big year for broadband legislation and funding in Missouri, and the effects are still rippling into 2020. In November 2019, Governor Parson launched the Missouri Broadband Grant Program, with an inaugural funding budget of $5 million. Funding from the Missouri Broadband Grant Program is to be used exclusively to help pay for broadband deploy to unserved areas. Under the program, proposed areas cannot have speeds over 25/3, and need to be contiguous. Mapping data must be included with all proposals, and the first round of grants was announced on March 5, 2020.
Also, in November 2019, the USDA announced that it was investing $41.6 million from its Reconnect Program to create high-speed broadband infrastructure that will serve rural Missouri and Southern Iowa. The Grand River Mutual Telephone Corporation will use that funding to bring fiber-optic Internet to 2,288 households, 17 businesses, and 39 farms.
What can you do to Influence Broadband Legislation and Expansion?
Every day the Internet becomes a more significant part of our lives and our local economies. OTELCO has seen Fiber Optic Internet and the Internet of Things significantly improve communities across our footprints, as they facilitate everything from telehealth to business development. You don’t have to wait on federal or state legislation to start your own community broadband project. You can start today by reading our post on how individual citizens can start municipal broadband projects in their communities.