Column: Continued focus on broadband

By Rep. Danny Williams

As vice chair of the House Technology Committee and the owner of a company specializing in providing local high-speed internet, technology and telecommunications are two areas that really interest me.

Rural internet access is crucial for health care and education in Oklahoma, and how we can improve our broadband access within the state was heavily discussed in the House during session.

House Bill 1124 directs the Oklahoma Dept. of Commerce, with participation from the Rural Broadband Expansion Council, to enact rules and procedures establishing the State Broadband Deployment Grant Program.

The program would include a competitive grant program to award funding to applicants seeking to expand access to broadband internet service. Our rural areas need affordable, high quality broadband connectivity and this grant program will speed up the process of getting them connected.

House Bill 2946 provides a sales tax exemption for the sale, lease, rental, storage, use or other consumption of certain broadband equipment by internet providers or subsidiaries if the property is used for the purpose of establishing or expanding broadband services in unserved or underserved areas.

House Bill 2040 directs the Rural Broadband Expansion Council to develop a set of broadband incentive award guidelines for recommendation to the Legislature by Oct. 31.

Senate Bill 802 expands the Rural Broadband Expansion Council from 14 members to 16. One additional member must be a wireless internet service provider appointed by the Speaker of the House, and the other additional member must be a leader of a tribe recognized within Oklahoma and appointed by the President Pro Tempore of the Senate.

Oklahoma must continue to innovate and keep up with, if not outpace, advancements in technology and telecommunications, or we may forfeit economic opportunities as businesses opt for states outperforming us in this area.

The House Technology Committee recently held an interim study on state broadband assets. The need for more broadband in the state is critical due to the necessity of virtual school and work after the start of the pandemic.

In today’s interconnected world, a robust, available broadband network is now a necessity to participate in education, commerce, healthcare and more. This is of particular importance to Oklahomans in rural areas that currently aren’t connected to the internet or do not have affordable options in their area.

We will continue to address the need for high quality, high speed, affordable internet access in all areas of the state.

In the meantime, please reach out to my office to ask questions or share thoughts on legislation. My office phone is (405) 557-7372 and my email is danny.williams@okhouse.gov.

Thank you for the honor of representing House District 28!