This post appears here courtesy of the Carolina Journal
. The author of this post is Johnny Kampis
Photo: Maya Reagan / Carolina Journal
A legislative bill that would allocate $750 million in federal relief money toward broadband growth has passed the House Appropriations Committee.
That vote last week came a day after Gov. Roy Cooper unveiled his plan
to spend $1.2 billion of $5.7 million in funding from the federal American Rescue Plan Act for high-speed internet access.
"This pandemic brought us a once-in-a-generation challenge, and these funds have brought us a once-in-a-generation opportunity,"
Cooper said. "North Carolina's funding from the American Rescue Plan positions our state for a shared recovery and allows us to create a North Carolina that works for all."
Cooper's spending plan includes $575 million for affordable housing, $365 million for college scholarships, and $350 million for small business grants, among other line items.
House Bill 947
, the GREAT Broadband Expansion Act, would use $400 million in American Rescue Plan taxpayer funds to create the Completing Access to Broadband program. It would also allocate $350 million in that federal relief toward the state's existing Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology program. Lawmakers hope to connect all 100 counties with broadband through these programs.
An estimated 1.1 million North Carolina households lack broadband access. The General Assembly previously allocated $30 million in COVID-19 relief toward broadband growth.
"What we've done is built this plan so that it partners and maximizes what the counties have available to them through the funds that are being given to them through the American Rescue Plan,"
Rep. Dean Arp, R-Union, a co-sponsor of the bill, said Thursday
. "We're matching it with the state funds, and then a provider comes in as well, and that's how we're able to leverage more dollars and really participate with the counties in extending the broadband."
Under the legislation, internet providers would be required to pay a portion of the projects in a cost-sharing provision. They would also be required to maintain service or be required to pay back their grants.
H.B. 947 was referred to the House Committee on Rules, Calendar and Operations.
Jon Sanders, director of regulatory studies at the John Locke Foundation, told Carolina Journal that while he recognizes the need for better broadband access in much of the state, he hopes that legislators directs the money to those unserved areas so that the money is allocated where it's most needed.
"There is a great deal of money — federal, state, and even county-level — employed to bring high-speed broadband to unserved areas,"
he said. "Lawmakers should be very careful to keep focus on the people this money is intended to serve."
Johnny Kampis is a freelance writer for Carolina Journal.