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State Looking To Bolster Broadband Speeds In Rural Areas

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Credit Gundolf Renze / Adobe Stock

If you’ve ever streamed music or browsed the internet during a road trip in Florida, you might have noticed the service can be spotty. Now lawmakers are looking into a plan to increase broadband access for rural communities.

Sen. Ben Albritton (R-Bartow) lives in a rural area and frequently deals with poor internet service.

"I pay for that today but I rarely get it and there’s no other option. I can get satellite. Which actually we have. We actually pay for two. But when its rainy or cloudy forget about the satellite right? And ironically, when it rains the other landline coverage that we have at my home, it doesn’t work very well either," Albritton said.

Albritton has a bill to improve connectivity for areas considered "underserved," meaning their internet speeds are too slow.

"It is an area that does not have a consistent speed of at least 10 megs of download and 1 meg of upload. So anything that is not, if they don’t have access to that or it isn’t consistently being able to be delivered to them in any particular area then they are defined as underserved," Albritton said.

Under the bill, the Office of Broadband, which would be over the plan, would move from the Department of Management Services to the Department of Economic Opportunity. 

"At DEO we already work with underserved and rural communities. It fits best to put in our menu of areas to work with rural communities. So that’s why we’re asking for the transfer to come from DMS to DEO," said DEO Deputy Director of Legislative Affairs Karis Lockhart.

The agency hopes to apply for federal funds to improve broadband access. Last year, the U.S. made $550 million dollars available to states looking to build high-speed broadband internet infrastructure.

In the House, the bill has already been sent to the full chamber. Co-Sponsor Rep. Loranne Ausley (D-Tallahassee) said the need for broadband in rural areas is evident.

“We all take our high speed internet for granted. It enables our kids to do homework or make music. It enables stay at home moms to stay current in their profession or have a stay at home business," Ausley said. "It allows adults in the workforce to take online classes to upskill or seek new opportunities. These opportunities are simply not available in many rural areas and this bill is the first step in changing that.”

Ausley said the bill will help the state track which communities have issues with access so they can be addressed.

“Also it importantly set up a process for public input where people can tell us where broadband is available, what transmission speeds are, and what barriers they have," Ausley said.

The bill also allocates $5 million of the $35 million appropriated for building three new toll roads for the enhancement of broadband services. Those funds become available fiscal year 2022-2023.

Copyright 2020 WFSU