Legislation to revitalize broadband expansion unanimously passed its first Senate committee Tuesday, a week after making the same milestone in the House.
The bill (SB 1166), sponsored by Sen. Ben Albritton, would create the Florida Office of Broadband within the Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) and make it the lead agency on high speed internet installation. Broadband coverage blankets many urban areas, providing homeowners and businesses with high-speed internet.
“In other parts of the state, especially in rural areas, the ability for somebody to access high quality, or quite frankly sometimes low quality broadband, is not available,” the Wauchula Republican said.
The Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee gave full approval to the proposal and an amendment defining “underserved” as 10 megabits per second download speeds and at least 1 megabit per second upload speeds. Last week, Rep. Brad Drake‘s House version (HB 969) unanimously passed the House Energy & Utilities Subcommittee.
But a key difference in Albritton’s version would allocate up to $5 million of Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise’s $35 million 2022-2023 budget to broadband expansion, a decision up to the DEO.
The Senator denied that the difference was an incentive for extended funding for Senate President Bill Galvano‘s priority Multi-use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance (M-CORES) program. Instead, he says the push came from DEO and would ensure the new toll roads bring value to the region it connects.
“I think it’s a mischaracterization that this came from the Senate President’s office, although I support him of course, especially for my communities with appropriate balance for the environment.
Broadband installation is supposed to be a responsibility of the Department of Management Services (DMS), but Drake said the department has neglected that role. DMS has not commented on its responsibility for broadband expansion since the committee meeting last week.
“I don’t know about DMS, but I know DEO wants it,” Albritton said.
And Tallahassee Democratic Rep. Loranne Ausley is working with Drake to utilize federal dollars for the broadband expansion. Because DMS dropped the ball, the state has missed out on access to federal funds.
“We don’t always do a good job of drawing down federal dollars that are available,” Ausley said last week. “And I think this is an opportunity to make sure that we have everything in place to take advantage of these resources that are available to fill a great need.”
Albritton’s bill next goes to the Senate Transportation, Tourism, and Economic Development Appropriations Subcommittee. And Drake’s version next goes to the House Transportation & Tourism Appropriations Subcommittee.
And a Lighthouse Point Republican Rep. Chip LaMarca bill (HB 9221) to plug in $500,000 for a broadband expansion study, passed the House Government Operations & Technology Appropriations Subcommittee last week.