Transportation and Telecommunications

Broadband office proposal amended, advanced

A bill that would establish a state broadband office in Nebraska was amended to become an omnibus telecommunications measure and advanced from select file April 5.

LB683, as introduced by the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee, would create the Nebraska Broadband Office to administer and maintain broadband services in Nebraska. Under the bill, a director would be appointed by the governor and confirmed by the Legislature to lead the office, which would operate administratively under the Nebraska Department of Transportation.

Currently, broadband services are under the purview of the Public Service Commission, a five-member elected body that regulates a variety of transportation and telecommunications industries in Nebraska.

Among other provisions, LB683 would require the new office to coordinate state broadband infrastructure deployment, operation and maintenance and would transfer the creation and maintenance of the state broadband map from the PSC to the new Nebraska Broadband Office.

Lincoln Sen. Suzanne Geist, chairperson of the committee, offered an amendment during select file debate, adopted 41-0, which adds provisions of several additional bills.

Provisions of Columbus Sen. Mike Moser’s LB124 would extend the termination date of a program that provides state matching funds to repair and replace county bridges from June 30, 2023, to June 30, 2029.

LB122, originally introduced by Brainard Sen. Bruce Bostelman, would require the State Fire Marshal to investigate all complaints relating to Nebraska’s One-Call Notification System. The provisions also would create the Underground Excavation Safety Committee to review complaints filed with the fire marshal to determine if a violation has occurred and assign any civil penalties up to $10,000.

The amendment also contains provisions of Bostelman’s LB722, which would clarify that the Public Service Commission cannot:
•require a competitive provider to accept or receive support from the Nebraska Telecommunications Universal Service Fund;
•impose eligible telecommunications carrier responsibilities or carrier of last resort obligations relating to the fund on a competitive provider in any deployment project area where the incumbent carrier or competitive provider is not actually receiving support from the fund; or
•impose eligible telecommunications carrier responsibilities or carrier of last resort obligations on an incumbent carrier that do not exist as of the date of final payment made.

Bostelman said the provisions would end the practice of subsidizing two broadband providers in the same area and establish regulatory certainty to ensure funding is used to reach rural areas of Nebraska.

Finally, the amendment contains provisions of LB359, introduced by Seward Sen. Jana Hughes, which amends the Nebraska Broadband Bridge Act to allow the PSC to open bridge grant application periods at any time during the year.

Bennington Sen. Wendy DeBoer supported both the bill and the Geist amendment, saying the measure would provide better coordination of the state’s broadband efforts.

Sen. Carol Blood of Bellevue spoke in opposition to the underlying bill, saying the governor already has issued an executive order to establish a state broadband office. LB683 simply would codify that order in state law, she said, which is not the best use of the Legislature’s time.

“Our job is to craft legislation and move that legislation forward,” Blood said. “Our job is not to codify executive orders because if we start doing that, why are we even here?”

Lincoln Sen. Eliot Bostar also offered an amendment during select file debate, adopted 39-0, to add provisions of his LB63, which would prohibit a telecommunications company from using Nebraska universal service funds if the company is using or providing communications equipment or service that poses a threat to national security.

Following adoption of a technical amendment offered by Lincoln Sen. George Dungan, senators advanced LB683 to final reading by voice vote.

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