Community Broadband Bill, USDA Technical Assistance Funding, Brian Vo on Public Knowledge Board

Bill by Rep. Anna Eshoo and Sen. Cory Booker would preempt state laws prohibiting municipal broadband projects using public funds.

Community Broadband Bill, USDA Technical Assistance Funding, Brian Vo on Public Knowledge Board
Photo of Sen. Cory Booker from June 2019 by Gage Skidmore used with permission

April 19, 2023 – A bill introduced Wednesday would amend the Telecommunications Act to override state laws prohibiting community broadband projects.

The Community Broadband Act of 2023 would include an amendment to the law prohibiting any “State statute, regulation, or other State legal requirement” prohibiting “any provider, public-private partnership provider, or cooperatively organized provider from providing, to any person or any public or private entity” telecommunications services, according to the bill.

The bill also includes an anti-discrimination provision to prevent preferences for certain builds.

There are 21 states that have laws prohibiting the building of community broadband projects using public funds. Opponents of community builds have argued that community builds harm competition by discouraging new entrants in the market.

“These laws shield incumbent internet service providers (ISPs) from competition and tie the hands of communities that want to improve broadband options or build-out to unserved areas that private providers refuse to connect,” said a press release from Rep. Anna Eshoo, D-CA, and Sen. Cory Booker, D-NJ, who introduced the bill.

“The Community Broadband Act nullifies state laws that inhibit local governments from building their own broadband, preserving the right to self-determination for local communities,” the release added.

The bill has been endorsed by more than a dozen organizations, according to the release, including the Fiber Broadband Association, the Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband Coalition, the National League of Cities and the National Association of Counties.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration, which will deliver $42.5 billion to the states for broadband infrastructure, has said that it wants to see community broadband as a build option using the funds.

USDA offering planning funding for rural internet projects

The Department of Agriculture announced Monday the availability of $20 million of technical assistance funding for rural communities looking to build high-speed internet projects.

The funding is provided by the new Broadband Technical Assistance Program, which can be used for feasibility studies, completing network designs, developing applications for funding, data collection and reporting and accessing federal resources.

There are three categories for funding with maximum awards of $1 million each. Applicants that are providers seeking assistance to deliver the benefit to rural communities, of which up to $7.5 million is available. Applicants that are recipients of the assistance have up to $7.5 million available. And the final stream provides up to $5 million for projects intended to support broadband cooperatives that will benefit rural communities.

“USDA is partnering with small towns, local utilities and cooperatives, and private companies to increase access to this critical service which in turn boosts opportunity and helps build bright futures,”  Xochitl Torres Small, the department’s under secretary for rural development, said in a press release.

Public Knowledge has new board member

Public Knowledge announced Tuesday that Brian Vo, the chief investment officer of internet advocate Connect Humanity, has joined the advocacy group as a member of the board.

“Brian’s deep expertise in finance and mission-driven investing will further strengthen our Board capabilities as we continue to support the long-term growth and success of the organization,” Chris Lewis, president and CEO of Public Knowledge, said in a release. “Today, the Public Knowledge Board is comprised of outstanding individuals that represent a wide array of professional experiences across technology, government, and business. I’m proud of the strength and diversity of our Board and look forward to Brian’s contributions in the coming years.”

Vo leads Connect Humanity’s investment efforts to advance digital equity. He has extensive experience in transactions and investments toward enhancing social improvement.

Vo joins nine other board members providing strategic counsel and leadership, the release noted.

Popular Tags