Saturday, May 23, 2020

Following veto override, rural broadband expansion council to be created

Legislature enacts bills to set rural broadband expansion plan

OKLAHOMA CITY – All stakeholders will be at the table in public meetings to craft an actionable rural broadband expansion plan for Oklahoma under legislation enacted by veto override Friday.

House Bill 4018 and Senate Bill 1002 cause a 14-member council to develop a plan to improve availability, quality and affordability of high speed internet in rural Oklahoma, which lags significantly behind the rest of the country in access to high speed internet.

“We are bringing all stakeholders together for step one of what will be several years of successful rural broadband expansion in Oklahoma,” said Rep. Logan Phillips, R-Mounds, an information technology college professor who carried the legislation. “Legislators don’t want to see any wasted resources, whether public or private, so we have asked for a coordinated plan that prevents wasteful efforts while getting rural constituents the internet they need.”

Phillips coauthored the legislation with House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka.

“Representative Logan Phillips worked tirelessly throughout the legislative interim and session to craft this very strong legislation that will produce real results for rural Oklahomans for years to come,” McCall said. “As a lifetime rural Oklahoman, I applaud Representative Phillips, Senator Leewright and all stakeholders for collaborating on a teamwork-driven approach to this major issue for our constituents.”

The legislation was carried in the Senate by Sen. James Leewright, R-Bristow.

“Even before the pandemic, rural Oklahoma needed faster, cheaper internet in a serious way,” Leewright said. “The pandemic only heightened rural Oklahoma’s broadband need, and I am pleased rural Oklahomans are now at the table to work on this issue, along with providers responsible for delivering the service.”

The Rural Broadband Expansion Council includes representation appointed by the House, Senate and governor to ensure all expertise and perspectives are represented in developing a rural broadband expansion plan. Rural-specific interests represented on the council include broadband providers, health care, business, municipalities, electric cooperatives and citizens. Other interests represented are large national wireless providers, information technology academics and state agencies with technology assets.

“These bills are about bringing people together to chart a shared path forward,” McCall said. “The council will utilize the expertise of proven private sector experts, since they will be chiefly responsible for executing the plan, rather than relying solely on state agencies with mixed track records on technology projects. This approach will produce the best outcome for citizens, and we look forward to collaborating with all parties on this important effort going forward.”

The bills take effect immediately and require the council to be named and convened within 60 days. All meetings of the council, which will be staffed by the Oklahoma Department of Commerce, will be subject to the Oklahoma Open Meeting Act.


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