Florida’s rural broadband limitations are neither new nor unique.
But more than nine months into a pandemic that’s made the deficiencies all-the-more critical, many remote Florida communities are still without reliable internet access.
Recognizing the deficiencies, Democratic Sen. Loranne Ausley plans to address the “digital divide” in the upcoming 2021 Legislative Session.
“Today, not having access to the internet means you don’t go to school,” Ausley explained. “You can’t do your homework, your parents can’t help you with your homework, your parents can’t do their job from home and they can’t access healthcare.”
Ausley, who represents Senate District 3, said finding the gaps in service will be her “first order of business.” Thereafter, she plans to work with the newly created Office of Broadband to ensure rural students can access to computers, laptops, internet and tech support.
“That is a mammoth undertaking,” she acknowledged. “But it is absolutely essential to keep our kids from falling behind.”
In the 2020 Legislative Session, Ausley – then in the Florida House – and Rep. Brad Drake successfully sponsored legislation to create the Office of Broadband. Housed within the Department of Economic Opportunity, the new office is now the lead agency on high-speed internet installation.
Their mission is to “increase the availability and effectiveness of broadband internet throughout the state, specifically in small and rural communities,” the office’s website says.
Ausley said the Office of Broadband will play a pivotal role in helping rural communities.
“We need to really escalate and speed up those efforts so the Office of Broadband can have the wherewithal and resources to bring in more federal resources.”
In addition, Ausley said state and local government needs to help incentivize the private sector to get involved.
She contended governments could pool resources to guarantee providers customer volume and profit.
“There are any number of solutions,” Ausley said. “If there’s money to be made, the providers are going to go. If they’re not enough customers, they’re not going to go.”
In 2017, a Florida Independent Colleges and Universities report showed nearly 700,000 Sunshine State residents lacked broadband internet access, 90.7 WMFE reported.