FREMONT – State Senator Lynne Walz from Fremont has introduced a series of bills in hopes to expand high speed internet into rural areas of the state.
LB522, LB523, and LB524 will look to make changes to the Nebraska Universal Service Fund and the Nebraska Internet Enhancement Fund. Both programs are currently designed to bring telecommunication services to unserved and underserved households and businesses throughout the state.
“I’ve talked to local elected officials, business owners, and other community leaders to discuss how we could grow our economy. Through those discussions, broadband access was consistently brought up as an area we need to improve,” said Senator Walz. “In our economy today, we cannot attract new businesses or expect young people to stay or move to our community with mediocre services. We need this in order for our communities to be a top destination to work and live.”
LB522 would change provisions to the Universal Service Fund. The bill would strike an obsolete clause that would allow funds to be transferred to the General Fund if funds went unused.
“This bill on the surface doesn’t change a lot,” stated Senator Walz. “I want it to carry the message that this money needs to be used how it was intended so our rural communities can grow.”
Both LB523 and LB524 relate to the Nebraska Internet Enhancement Fund (NIEF). LB523 would strike a matching fund requirement for telecommunications providers to receive grant money through NIEF.
LB524 would allocate $100,000 annually to NIEF to be spent in communities that are underserved. The Public Service Commission has not issued a grant through NIEF since 2012 and has only spent approximately $660,000 since the program was adopted in 2002.
“These two bills are designed to make it easier for small communities and providers to receive funding to expand services in small communities,” said Senator Walz. “A small community may not have the 25% of the funds needed readily available to improve services, but also can’t come up with the money without bringing in new businesses that need the services.”
These proposed changes are expected to be the start of more extensive reforms in years to come. LB522 and LB523 will be heard in the Transportation and Telecommunications Committee on Monday while LB524 will be heard by the Appropriations Committee with no hearing date scheduled.