A House budget panel Tuesday gave the first thumbs-up to a study on broadband coverage across the state.
Lighthouse Point Republican Rep. Chip LaMarca hopes to plug in $500,000 for the study, to which the Government Operations & Technology Appropriations Subcommittee gave unanimous approval. The study would task researchers with identifying rural and urban areas lacking “efficient and equitable” investment and service for high-speed broadband access.
“One of the most important things we can do is identify where some of the underserved areas are,” LaMarca said. “You can have a map of a rural or urban area and you can have a five-block area that looks like it’s within what one of the major broadband utility covers and they could be completely underserved.”
That study, funded by HB 9221, should be finished within six months of the appropriation being made, LaMarca said.
Friday morning, the House Energy & Utilities Subcommittee gave the first committee approval to Eucheeana Republican Rep. Brad Drake’s HB 969. The bill seeks to restart a state broadband expansion program that pulls down federal dollars.
LaMarca, who sits on both subcommittees, says he is coordinating with Drake to ensure the process is efficient.
“I figured I would put this funding appropriation request in knowing that the federal government may be the cavalry, but the federal government isn’t always coming when they say they are,” LaMarca said. “I want to be cautious and look out for the state of Florida.”
Ocoee Democratic Rep. Kamia Brown thanked LaMarca for bringing the bill forward and the committee for hearing it. Students in underserved communities fall victim to a two-tiered system of technology access, she said.
“You have those that have to go to the nearby McDonald’s to receive Wi-Fi,” Brown said. “And in many of these communities and our rural areas, sometimes that McDonald’s is 10 to 20 miles away. Even that library is 20 miles away.”