LYONS, NEBRASKA - A bill to improve broadband access was approved on final reading by the Nebraska Legislature Tuesday morning.
“We applaud the passage of Legislative Bill 996,” said Johnathan Hladik, policy director for the Center for Rural Affairs. “The bill opens the door for a greater share of federal funds directed at financing broadband expansion in rural and unserved areas of our state.”
Hladik also commended the work of Sen. Tom Brandt, who designated LB 996 as his priority bill for the session. The bill passed on a 47-0 vote.
“We appreciate Sen. Brandt’s diligence in working with the Center to get this important piece of legislation passed,” Hladik said.
LB 996 creates the Broadband Data Improvement Program, which will help ensure the state is able to fully access federal broadband grant programs by complying with data verification requirements set forth by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) as part of the establishment of the Digital Opportunity Data Collection (DODC) program last year.
“Improving access to broadband for Nebraskans and in particular rural Nebraskans has been a focus of mine since being elected,” Brandt said. “The Broadband Data Improvement Program sets the stage for a major leap forward in our ability to identify areas within our state that are underserved or not served at all.”
The DODC program is designed to improve upon the FCC’s current approach to data collection, which relies on Form 477 to make broad access generalizations at the Census block level. Use of that form enabled providers to claim that homes and businesses had broadband coverage when in fact they did not. LB 996 directs the state Public Service Commission to establish a process to collect public input, known as crowdsourcing, to verify the accuracy of information submitted by the providers.
Improving broadband access in rural and underserved areas is long overdue, Hladik said, even more so in light of the coronavirus pandemic.
“In today’s world, having access to the Internet has become just as important as other utilities citizens have come to rely on, such as electricity, water and sewer,” Hladik said. “ From Omaha to Scottsbluff, Superior to Valentine, and all areas in between, broadband service is critical to business, farms and ranches, the education of young people and health care services.”
LB 996 now heads to the governor.
“We eagerly await Gov. Ricketts' signature,” Hladik said.