Law to expand high-speed internet needs funding

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About 30% of Oklahoma households do not have internet access. A new law aims to drastically reduce the number in the next five years. (Photo by Israel Palacio via Unsplash)

A new law to expand high-speed internet access to 95% of Oklahomans by 2027 comes two years after the pandemic shut schools and workplaces, and the shift to learning and working remotely. distance highlighted the connectivity disparity in the state.

Gov. Kevin Stitt this month signed into law House Bill 3363 — Oklahoma’s Broadband Expansion Act. Legislation to fund it awaits his signature.

According to a Review.org report, only 69% of Oklahoma households have an internet connection, the fourth worst in the nation. Data from the latest US Census survey was used to determine how the country and individual states are doing on the digital divide.

The report shows that 27.6 million (22.5%) US households do not have home internet and must use public Wi-Fi or other means to connect. Of those with home service, 265,331 households still use dial-up Internet.

Residents of Mississippi, Arkansas and Alabama are the least connected, while Utah, Colorado and California have the highest percentage of households with an internet connection.

One in four Oklahoma students lack high-speed internet at home, limiting access to advanced placement courses and concurrent college enrollment, according to the Oklahoma Department of Education. ‘State.

The Review.org report shows that one-third of Oklahoma’s population is considered rural, and the rural poverty rate is 17.6%.

The nine states with the lowest percentage of home Internet all have rural poverty rates above the national average of 15.3%. The poverty rate may influence telecom providers building in certain areas, if at all, the report notes.

The Oklahoma Broadband Expansion Act — co-authored by House Speaker Charles McCall, R-Atoka, and Senate Speaker Pro Tem Greg Treat, R-Oklahoma City — passed with broad bipartisan support.

It creates the Oklahoma Broadband Office through June 30, 2028 and a board of directors, which will oversee the office and hire an executive director. Together, the office and board are responsible for developing the state’s broadband plan, the state’s broadband grant program, and other grant programs and projects to address areas not served and underserved.

The Legislature’s Joint Committee on Pandemic Relief Funding voted unanimously to spend more than $2 million of state federal relief funds to complete the broadband mapping needed to creation of the state broadband plan.

The fiscal analysis for HB 3363 notes that the broadband office will be funded by federal programs and funds available from the state broadband subsidy program revolving fund. As it is not known what the actual cost of the new office will be, it remains possible that appropriate funds will be needed in the future, he said.

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