With Rhode Island poised to receive over $200 million in federal funding for broadband expansion, House Innovation, Internet & Technology Committee Chairwoman Deborah Ruggiero is urging passage of her legislation to strategically cultivate expanded broadband service statewide.
The legislation (2022-H 7083) would create a 12-member Broadband Council and establish a broadband coordinator within the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation to better position Rhode Island to access federal funding, address issues of high-speed internet access, and leverage economic development opportunities.
“Like every state, we will get a huge federal investment to address our broadband needs, but Rhode Island has to qualify for it. Our state will need to develop a plan for fiber broadband deployment to homes and businesses and a plan to fix digital inequities in underserved and unserved neighborhoods. My bill puts in place the structures Rhode Island needs to get back to work connecting our whole state to the broadband service that is so vital to business, education and life in the 21st century,” said Chairwoman Ruggiero (D-Dist. 74, Jamestown, Middletown). “Public confidence demands that there is transparency in how federal dollars are allocated and that the state is looking at innovative solutions for future bandwidth and we’re not just cementing old technology. The Broadband Advisory Council will work with Rhode Island Commerce discussing new technologies, best practices in other states, and how we can expand broadband internet for the next 20 years.”
Chairwoman Ruggiero’s committee is scheduled to hold a hearing on the legislation Wednesday Feb. 9, at 4 p.m. in Room 101 on the first floor of the State House.
Rhode Island has a fiber-optic broadband network, Beacon 2.0, completed in August 2013, that connects many state institutions including URI, RIC and the State Data Center, 39 school districts, 16 library facilities and the state’s three largest hospital consortia with a fiber-optic backbone.
But when the federal grant that helped fund its construction was exhausted, Rhode Island ceased having a state entity in charge of expanding access to fiber-optic technology. Very little of the state is actually connected to that “middle mile” of fiber. Rhode Island and Mississippi have been the only two states in the country without any broadband governance over the past seven years.
“We have a broadband network available in Rhode Island. What we lack are the ‘on ramps’ for residents, business, and municipalities to connect to the fiber highway, especially in Newport County. Broadband must be reliable, fast and affordable. Bandwidth expectations have grown exponentially as our internet needs have become more interactive with entertainment, remote work, video conferencing and telehealth. Rhode Island has not focused on infrastructure or fiber-optic broadband, missing out on federal dollars and not staying current on technology trends. This bill helps leverage the federal dollars and get us back in the broadband game,” said Chairwoman Ruggiero.
Representative Ruggiero’s legislation seeks to ensure the state qualifies to use the available federal funding, gets the most value for the money, and aggressively seeks other opportunities and funding for expansion in the future.
Under the bill, the broadband administrator would work to expand broadband accessibility and internet connectivity and would be responsible for accessing federal dollars for economic development, broadband policy and coordinating any future funding efforts.
The Broadband Advisory Council, along with Rhode Island Commerce, would discuss new technologies, municipal broadband financing models and best practices in other states. The BAC includes representatives from the state Emergency Management Agency, Rhode Island League of Cities and Towns, Public Utilities Commission, the Office of Library and Information Services, Ocean State Higher Education Economic Development and Administrative Network (OSHEAN), the Department of Transportation, the Rhode Island Infrastructure Bank, the CEO of the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation, the George Wiley Center, a cable company, a fiber broadband company and a telecommunications attorney.
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