Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday signed a bill that aims to expand broadband access in “unserved” parts of the state.
Sponsored by Rep. Josie Tomkow, a Polk City Republican, the bill (HB 1239) transfers the Office of Broadband to the Department of Economic Opportunity and bolsters its mission.
Tomkow said the bill would “eliminate our digital divide throughout our state” and expand a similar bill passed last year.
More specifically, it encourages broadband companies to expand to rural areas by creating a path for the necessary infrastructure, including by identifying federal grants available for local spending.
The legislation no longer includes a sales tax exemption, which means the bill will not have a fiscal impact on local governments. Previously, the bill provided a tax exemption for equipment used in the expansion.
Florida Internet and Television Association, which represents Comcast, Charter, Fox, Mediacom and Atlantic Broadband, said cable companies supported the bill even with the removal of the tax exemption.
The bill would create the Broadband Opportunity Program within the Office of Broadband to provide grants to extend broadband access to areas without it.
Under the program, for-profit and nonprofit businesses, local governments, and more, could file for grants to install and deploy broadband infrastructure under the proposal.
The Broadband Opportunity Program portion, originally filed as a separate bill (HB 753) by Gainesville Republican Rep. Chuck Clemons, at first tied itself to the Multi-use Corridors of Regional Economic Significance (M-CORES) program to help fund the broadband initiatives.
Lawmakers, however, repealed M-CORES, which explored the possibility of adding three additional toll roads in Florida.