Wednesday, February 23, 2022

House Republicans propose plan to get 95% of Oklahomans' broadband coverage

House Republicans propose plan to get 95% of Oklahomans' broadband coverage

OKLAHOMA CITY – House Republican legislation to bring high-speed internet to 95% of Oklahomans in five years will be heard in committee this week.

The creation of an Oklahoma Broadband Office via House Bill 3363 represents Oklahoma's most aggressive step yet in broadband expansion, which has been a House Republican priority for three years.

"With all the funds now available for broadband expansion, a dedicated office is needed to maximize their benefit for all Oklahomans," said House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka. "House Republicans support broadband expansion because it is critical infrastructure that creates jobs and is as essential as phones or roads to modern life."

HB 3363, authored by McCall, creates the Oklahoma Broadband Office to distribute all funding available for broadband expansion and deliver high-speed internet to 95% of Oklahomans in five years. The nonappropriated office would be fully funded with administrative allowances from federal funds and sunset in 2028, once all funds are distributed.

"This office will be self-funded and exist only until the job is done. Broadband should belong to the free market, not government, so this entity will sunset once its work is complete," McCall said.

The office will:

  • Collect and distribute all funds available for broadband expansion in Oklahoma
  • Establish policies to maximize use of funds
  • Create and update Statewide Broadband Plan to achieve 95% service coverage by 2027
  • Maintain mapping system of all broadband infrastructure in Oklahoma

Federal funding expected for broadband in Oklahoma ranges from $200 million, which is already on hand, to more than $1 billion once future allotments are made. In addition, Oklahoma last year enacted a $42 million sales tax rebate incentive for equipment and materials used for broadband expansion.

McCall said the sooner the bill can pass, the better. An emergency clause would allow the bill to take effect immediately by sufficient majority vote.

"We intend to move this bill quickly so the office can be stood up as soon as possible. The money is here and it is time to start building," McCall said. "Broadband has been a shared priority of the legislative and executive branches that we expect will win strong support."

The office would be overseen by a nine-member intra-branch governing board and advised by an existing broadband council comprised of broadband stakeholders from across the state.

"This is the path to aggressively build a sustainable Oklahoma broadband infrastructure for generations to come," said Rep. Logan Phillips, R-Mounds. "Creating a broadband office is a national best practice used by more than 30 other states and recommended by the Oklahoma Rural Broadband Expansion Council. It is the logical next step in the efforts we have been working on for three years."

Phillips, who serves as co-chair of the Rural Broadband Expansion Council, has worked with other House Republicans to pass more than a dozen pieces of broadband legislation in the past three years.

"Everything we have done to date laid the groundwork for the Oklahoma Broadband Office," said Phillips, a technology professor and nationally-recognized expert on state-level broadband policy. "Oklahoma has the right policies in place to maximize our broadband resources. Now it is time to start building."

HB 3363 will he heard in the House Rules Committee on Thursday, Feb. 24, at 1:30 p.m.


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