The Florida Legislature continues to champion statewide solutions to eliminating the Digital Divide. Over the past two years, comprehensive broadband legislation has expanded Florida’s ability to bridge connectivity gaps in both rural and urban communities. The Florida Department of Economic Opportunity’s Office of Broadband is the lead state agency to facilitate the expansion of broadband Internet service in the state. The Office of Broadband assists local communities in the development, marketing, and promotion of broadband Internet service throughout the state.
2022 Broadband Legislation:
HB 1543/SB 1800 – Broadband Infrastructure by Rep. Tomkow and Sen. Boyd: The bills create the Broadband Pole Replacement Program, to be administered by the Office of Broadband (Office) within the Department of Economic Opportunity (Department). The Program will reimburse eligible broadband Internet service providers for their costs incurred for the removal and replacement of existing utility poles in areas of Florida that are unserved by broadband Internet service. Reimbursements under the program are limited to 50 percent of the broadband Internet service provider’s eligible pole replacement costs, or $5,000—whichever is less, in addition to their administrative costs related to the preparation and submission of the application for reimbursement. The bills direct the Secretary of the Department to apply for $100 million in federal funding from the Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund, and directs any such funds received to be placed into the Broadband Pole Replacement Trust Fund, created by linked bills.
Linked: HB 1545/ SB 1802 – Broadband Pole Replacement Trust Fund by Rep. Tomkow and Sen. Boyd: Creates the Broadband Pole Replacement Trust Fund within the Department of Economic Opportunity. Requires that funds in trust fund be used in manner consistent with federal law and provides that balance in trust fund at end of fiscal year remains in trust fund. For the 2022-2023 fiscal year, the bill appropriates $400 million in nonrecurring funds from the General Revenue Fund to the Department for the purpose of administering the Broadband Opportunity Program.
- SB 1726- Broadband by Sen. Ausley: Establishes the Broadband Deployment Task Force within the Department of Economic Opportunity for the deployment of broadband Internet service throughout the state. Provides requirements for the composition of the Task force to include 16 members appointed by 9/1/22. Requires the task force to submit annual reports to the Governor and the Legislature by 12/30/23. Provides that certain information provided to the department from broadband service providers retains its confidentiality and exemption from public disclosure requirements. Revises the grant application written challenge requirements. Establishes seven full-time positions within the Office of Broadband to implement grant programs, maintain information systems, and provide administrative support to the Task Force.
2021 Broadband Legislation:
FAC Priority: Broadband Access Legislation Passes
HB 1239– Broadband Internet Infrastructure by Rep. Tomkow (SB 1592 by Sen. Burgess) passed the Legislature unanimously and was signed by Governor DeSantis on May 7th. The legislation adopted provisions from several broadband bills to create a multifaceted approach to addressing the Digital Divide in Florida. FAC supported provisions addressing broadband mapping improvements including funding to address the discrepancies in reported broadband speed maps. The bill also featured an “Opportunity Grant” program to expand access. This session the Legislature did not provide funding for the grant program in hopes of further developing the requirements for applicants. The bill also contained provisions addressing telecom access to municipal electric utility poles. Specifically, the bill:
Establishes Opportunity Grants to focus broadband expansion in unserved areas with fewer than 25 megabits per second (Mbps) download speed and 3 Mbps upload speed
Limits grant awards to 50% of the total cost of the project, or no more than $5 million per grant
Prohibits grants awards for projects that receive other federal funding
Prohibits state funds to a geographic area in which broadband is “already deployed by at least one provider”
Requires municipal electric utilities to offer broadband service providers a discounted rate of one dollar per attachment per year for any new pole attachment necessary to make broadband service available to an unserved or underserved broadband Internet customers through July 1,2024.
Prohibits municipal electric utilities from raising their current pole attachment rates for broadband providers before July 31, 2022.
Appropriates $1.5 million (nonrecurring) to the Department of Economic Opportunity
Requires the Department to develop geographic information system maps and annually update such maps, in collaboration with specified entities and consistent with certain federal reporting standards by June 30,2022 to identify gaps of broadband internet coverage.
Budget Success: Rural Infrastructure Fund
The SFY 2021-2022 budget allocates $5 million to support local rural infrastructure projects such as broadband, roads, storm and wastewater systems, and telecommunications facilities. The eligible uses of these funds include roads or other remedies to transportation impediments; storm water systems; water or wastewater facilities; and telecommunications facilities and broadband facilities.
Other 2021 Broadband Legislation:
While HB 1239 was the only broadband bill to pass the Legislature this session, many other bills were filed:
HB 753 Broadband Internet Deployment by Representative Clemons
HB 985 Use of Federal Funding to Support Online Learning by Representative Shoaf
HB 1339 Broadband Internet Service by Representative Goff-Marcil
SB 1560 Broadband Internet Service by Senator Ausley
SB 1592 Broadband Internet Infrastructure by Senator Burgess
SB 2004 Broadband Internet by Senator Burgess
2020 Broadband Legislation:
HB 969 Broadband Internet Service by Representatives Ausley and Drake