Rural broadband provisions approved

Lawmakers passed a bill Aug. 11 intended to encourage expansion of broadband internet service in underserved and unserved areas.

<a href='http://news.legislature.ne.gov/dist34' target='_blank' title='Link to the website of Sen. Curt Friesen'>Sen. Curt Friesen</a>
Sen. Curt Friesen

LB992, introduced by Sen. Curt Friesen of Henderson, creates a new position of state broadband coordinator within the office of the state chief information officer.

Among other duties, the coordinator will encourage counties to appoint a broadband coordinator to facilitate broadband planning and coordination, assist counties in determining available broadband assets and explore the creation of broadband cooperatives in unserved or underserved areas of the state.

The bill allows an electric utility and a commercial broadband supplier to enter into an agreement for the use of an electric utility easement or certain electric utility infrastructure to install, maintain or own certain attached equipment for operation by a commercial broadband supplier.

In entering into an agreement, an electric utility may not discriminate among commercial broadband suppliers in offering or granting rights to install or attach certain broadband equipment.

LB992 requires electric utilities to charge fees that are nondiscriminatory among commercial broadband suppliers for a substantially similar lease or use of the capacity of attached facilities owned or controlled by the electric utility.

The bill also requires the Nebraska Public Service Commission to establish a matching fund program to provide incentives for the deployment of fiber-optic cable to benefit public libraries.

Beginning July 1, 2021, the program will receive funding from the Nebraska Telecommunications Universal Service Fund.

Additionally, LB992 changes current law allowing a state agency or political subdivision to lease its unused fiber-optic cable to certain telecommunications carriers.

Before a dark fiber lease becomes effective, it must be filed with the commission, which will cause notice of the lease and lease rates to be published.

The bill requires the commission to establish a safe harbor range of market rates for all dark fiber leases using a competitive price determination comparison.

Under LB992, 50 percent of the profit earned by an agency or political subdivision under certain dark fiber leases must be remitted to the Nebraska Telecommunications Universal Service Fund. The provision does not apply to a lease or a portion of a lease of dark fiber leased to exclusively serve unserved locations.

Finally, the amendment provides that Nebraska Rural Broadband Task Force members appointed by the governor will serve two-year terms and may be reappointed.

LB992 passed on a vote of 47-0.

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