senate

A bipartisan group of senators is crafting legislation that would find ways to expand broadband access in North Carolina.

The bill, filed Monday, appears unfinished. Several sections remain unfilled, presumably with details to come in later editions.

But the goals are significant, starting with the title: “Innovative Statewide Broadband Infrastructure.” The legislation would convene the Institute for Emerging Issues to tackle ways to remove regulations that prevent broadband expansion from happening more rapidly.

Other goals include allowing easements for other utilities to be used for broadband and expanding the state’s grant program for extending high-speed internet to rural parts of the state. This program, known as Growing Rural Economies with Access to Technology, was created by the General Assembly in 2018.

The bill also puts up money for mapping current broadband infrastructure in the state. 

Jon Sanders, research editor and senior fellow in regulatory studies at the John Locke Foundation, said removing barriers to broadband expansion is a good goal.

He’s argued that policymakers can help with broadband expansion by promoting cost-sharing and consistent formulas for new utility poles and pushing the N.C. Utilities Commission to settle disputes more quickly. 

“North Carolina’s leaders should keep the focus on clearing the way for private enterprise,” Sanders wrote in February.

Lawmakers consistently ranked broadband expansion as a top priority of the current long session. As COVID-19 shifted more activities from in-person to online, the pandemic shone a light on the difficulties faced by rural communities without reliable access to high-speed internet.

The bill is sponsored by Sen. Paul Newton, R-Cabarrus, and Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, D-Wake. Sen. Lisa Barnes, R-Johnston, and Sen. Kirk DeViere, D-Cumberland, are co-sponsors.

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