Data collection program to improve broadband availability advanced

Lawmakers gave first-round approval Feb. 18 to a bill that would help Nebraska obtain federal funding for increased broadband availability.

<a href='http://news.legislature.ne.gov/dist32' target='_blank' title='Link to the website of Sen. Tom Brandt'>Sen. Tom Brandt</a>
Sen. Tom Brandt

LB996, sponsored by Plymouth Sen. Tom Brandt, would allow Nebraska to create a statewide crowdsourcing program to collect broadband availability data to supplement federal data that already is collected.

The current data collection form employed by the Federal Communications Commission grossly overstates the availability of broadband in Nebraska, Brandt said, but the agency has undertaken a new process for obtaining more accurate data and is asking states for help in that effort.

“The data collected will now be used to determine how and where federal broadband funding is allocated,” he said. “LB996 is written to ensure that the state of Nebraska can maximize the benefits of this program.”

The bill would prioritize resources and outreach in areas of the state that crowdsourcing, public feedback and other evidence suggests are unserved or underserved by high-speed internet.

Sen. Mike Hilgers of Lincoln supported LB996. The state cannot address the problem of rural broadband access, he said, until more accurate data is collected.

“Understanding where the most acute needs are and where those dollars, resources and focus should be is one of the challenges we face,” Hilgers said. “LB996 is one step forward to try and help get us [information] that we really need to address this issue.”

Thurston Sen. Joni Albrecht also supported the bill. Many young people in her district take computers home from school, she said, but many do not have access to high-speed internet to complete their homework.

“Most of the [children] in my district will end up in the library after school or at McDonald’s, just anywhere they can get online to get their homework done before they head home,” Albrecht said.

Senators advanced the bill to select file on a 37-0 vote.

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