When TTA members visited the Capitol last month, legislators were paying close attention to the governor’s Broadband Accessibility Act. Now, that bill has passed through the first round of committees and appears on track for a vote on the House and Senate floors.
On Tuesday, the Senate Commerce and Labor Committee unanimously recommended the bill (HB 0529 and SB 1215 ) for passage.
And thanks to input from TTA and member companies, the bill the committee recommended is an amended bill that, overall, most TTA members will likely be pleased with.
“It’s a well-balanced bill,” says TTA Executive Director Levoy Knowles. “It helps people in areas of the state where TTA members don’t serve; it provides some opportunities for growth and new partnerships; and it puts a fence around municipals that prevents unfair competition.”
The initial version of the bill put much of the broadband expansion attention on electric cooperatives, and the amended version still supports this notion. The amendment, however, which was supported by TTA and several larger telecommunications companies in the state, defines some important limits for the electric providers. For instance, under the amendment, electric cooperatives may not provide broadband outside of their service footprint and would be required to give telcos unrestricted access to poles if the electrics get into the broadband business. The amendment also requires electric cooperatives to create a subsidiary to handle the broadband in order to better track funds.
Many of these issues were discussed when more than a dozen TTA member company representatives converged on the legislative plaza for the annual TTA Day On The Hill on Feb. 12. The TTA delegation met with lawmakers to discuss the pending legislation and other issues.
“Meetings like those during the Day On The Hill are so important to TTA’s legislative work,” Knowles says. “Our representatives need our input to make these important decisions.”
Unchanged in the Broadband Accessibility Act are the governor’s plans for a $30 million incentive grant program for any company who commits to build out a broadband network to residents of the state who cannot currently receive download speeds of 10 Mbps. To apply for the grants, which award $10 million for three years, providers must commit to serving these new customers with speeds of at least 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload.
The bill also creates tax incentives of up to $5 million per year for three years for companies expanding broadband networks. If it’s passed, providers would be able to apply six percent of the cost of equipment purchased for certain economically depressed counties to their franchise and excise tax.
After passing through the House Business and Utilities subcommittee last week, the bill was slated for a vote in the House Committee on Wednesday, but it was postponed a week due to the president’s visit to Nashville. The next action is scheduled for a vote in the House Business and Utilities Committee on March 22.