The Richmond Observer – North Carolina lawmakers still have a lot of work to do on broadband
RALEIGH – The General Assembly could allocate hundreds of millions of dollars in federal aid to bridge the digital divide this session, but political experts say lawmakers need to cut regulations further to help further expand the broadband infrastructure.
The budget passed by the Senate would allocate $ 330 million in Grants for Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology (GREAT). It includes other broadband funds, including $ 15 million for broadband access at rural community colleges.
The House has not acted on a budget plan, but has already shown a strong tendency to use a healthy portion of the American Rescue Plan Act’s federal taxpayer money for broadband. It unanimously passed Bill 947, the grand broadband expansion bill, which would use $ 400 million to create the full broadband access program. It would also allocate $ 350 million of that federal relief to the GREAT program. Lawmakers hope to connect all 100 counties to broadband through these programs.
The Senate did not act on this bill but instead put federal relief money in the budget.
Governor Roy Cooper wanted to use $ 1.2 million of $ 5.7 million in US bailout funding for high-speed internet access, but lawmakers have not shown willingness to spend so much on the top debit.
Jon Sanders, John Locke Foundation research editor and senior researcher, Regulatory Studies, told the Carolina Journal that the state needs to act on broadband, given that there are so many federal money to pay and that rural areas need it.
According to studies, approximately 1.1 million homes in North Carolina do not have broadband access.
“I think it’s imperative for North Carolina to have a head start in taking care of these unserved areas,” Sanders said.
But Sanders said lawmakers can do more to facilitate broadband growth. While other states have passed laws limiting the amount of permit fees the government can charge vendors or established a one-touch readiness permit for utility pole fasteners, lawmakers have so far not acted on these red tape reduction issues.
Sanders notes that this will only keep the costs of expanding broadband higher for providers and hurt the state’s ability to bridge the digital divide.
There is still time for lawmakers on these issues, but they seem to be a lower priority than topics such as voting and energy legislation.
“We’ve had some pretty big issues in the General Assembly over the past few weeks and months,” Sanders noted, including the budget, the critical race theory, and limiting a governor’s power.