Gov. DeSantis signs rural broadband expansion bill

Cell phone or mobile service tower in forested area of West Virginia providing broadband service
The bill aims to “eliminate our digital divide throughout our state."

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.

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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Lawmakers, however, repealed M-CORES, which explored the possibility of adding three additional toll roads in Florida.

While it’s far from a new issue, rural broadband access was thrust into the spotlight by the COVID-19 pandemic.
The lack of broadband access in rural communities burdened thousands of Floridians who struggled to access telemedicine, education and online shopping.

Jason Delgado

Jason Delgado covers news out of the state capital for Florida Politics. After a stint with the U.S. Army, Jason attended the University of Central Florida where he studied American Policy and National Security. His past bylines include WMFE-NPR and POLITICO Florida. Throw him a line at [email protected] or on Twitter at @byJasonDelgado.


One comment

  • John

    May 7, 2021 at 9:59 pm

    In Gilchrist even cell service misses half the county. Hotspots are problematic and very expensive. This is long overdue.

Comments are closed.


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