Broadband regulations considered
A bill that would clarify broadband regulations in order to avoid infrastructure overbuilding was heard in the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee Feb. 7.
LB722, introduced by Brainard Sen. Bruce Bostelman, would give the Public Service Commission authority to make the following determinations before any award, grant or redirection of funds is made under the Nebraska Telecommunications Universal Service Fund Act, Nebraska Broadband Bridge Act or certain federal programs:
• the smooth transition of services to ratepayers and customers;
• undepreciated investment in existing infrastructure owned by the incumbent local exchange carrier;
• transfer of federal fund and state eligible telecommunications carrier designations and responsibilities; and
• whether rural ratepayers and customers in the service area and nearby service areas are receiving broadband services.
Bostelman said that both the Legislature and the PSC recognize the importance of avoiding overbuilding, or subsidizing new infrastructure where existing infrastructure already exists. The bill would address cases when two companies are being subsidized and therefore would help avoid cases of overbuilding, he said.
“This bill addresses the issue of overbuilding by simply making it clear that the commission has the authority to consider and decide issues critical to the smooth transition of customers in larger geographic areas,” Bostelman said. “With a significant amount of funding that will be coming to the state, we cannot afford to take the time to dissect Nebraska on a case-by-case basis.”
In support of LB722 was Sarah Meier, speaking on behalf of the Nebraska Rural Broadband Alliance. Nebraska is set to receive a once-in-a-generation infusion of federal funds for the deployment of broadband infrastructure through a number of programs, she said, and the state is faced with a limited timeframe to ramp up broadband deployment.
“As Nebraska expends a tremendous amount of federal funding to deploy broadband infrastructure across large rural areas, it is crucial that the deployment strategy and implementation is cost-effective and done in a way to avoid overbuilding and also ensures that we are capable of, and prepared to, sustain this vastly increased network over time,” Meier said. “LB722 accomplishes these objectives.”
Public Service Commissioner Dan Watermeier also spoke in support of the bill. The large amount of federal funding for broadband will lead to a “great deal of change” in the state, he said, and while the progress is necessary, it is also important to ensure that residents “don’t get lost in the shuffle.”
Candace Meredith testified in support of LB722 on behalf of the Nebraska Association of County Officials, saying it’s important for the PSC to have the authority to assist with an efficient transition of affordable service to rural customers.
John Wyvill, representing Cox Communications, spoke in opposition to the bill in its present form. Wyvill said the primary concern is that the bill inadvertently would provide carriers of last resort responsibilities to cable companies. He said Cox would be in support of LB722 if this could be addressed.
The committee took no immediate action on LB722.