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House votes to establish Florida Office of Broadband, reboot expansion

Lawmakers want DEO to start drawing down federal dollars for broadband expansion.

Lawmakers look to increase broadband internet access across the state with a bill passed unanimously Wednesday by the House.

That measure (HB 969), filed by Eucheeana Republican Rep. Brad Drake, would create the Florida Office of Broadband within the Department of Economic Opportunity (DEO) and would designate it the lead agency on high-speed internet installation.

With Drake absent from the Capitol Wednesday, Tallahassee Democratic Rep. Loranne Ausley, a co-sponsor, told the House that people often take high-speed internet for granted. However, in rural communities, broadband is harder to come by in the Sunshine State.

High-speed internet allows people to pay bills and study online.

“It allows stay-at-home moms to stay current in their profession or to have a stay-at-home business,” Ausley added. “It allows adults in the workforce to up-skill or seek new opportunities.”

Additionally, the bill would allocate up to $5 million of Florida’s Turnpike Enterprise’s $35 million 2022-2023 budget to broadband expansion, a decision up to DEO.

Historically, the Department of Management Services (DMS) has been responsible for pulling down federal dollars on broadband expansion. In 2015, it completed a grant for mapping broadband access statewide and has since completed broadband access programs for libraries and government buildings.

But DEO has offered to expand coverage as the responsibility falls within its wheelhouse. Without a dedicated agency applying for broadband grants, Drake and Ausley have said the state has missed opportunities for federal dollars.

The legislation also allows Floridians to submit whether they have access to broadband in their homes to create a more accurate representation of coverage. Currently, if one property in a census tract has broadband access, the entire tract is labeled as covered.

Sen. Ben Albritton‘s companion version (SB 1166) is ready for preliminary approval in the Senate.

Ausley had filed a bill (HB 1309) that instead rebooted DMS’ broadband responsibilities.

Written By

Renzo Downey covers the Florida Legislature for Florida Politics. After graduating from Northwestern University in 2019, Renzo began his reporting career in the Lone Star State, covering state government for the Austin American-Statesman. Shoot Renzo an email at renzo@floridapolitics.com and follow him on Twitter @RenzoDowney.

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