Nebraska lawmakers advance bill for $40 million rural broadband expansion

Forty million dollars in Nebraska state funds could expand rural broadband to better connect ag businesses and producers who rely on high-tech applications.

Lawmakers advanced a bill that would allocate the money in the form of grants for unserved and underserved areas that have less than 25 megabits-per-second download and 3 megabits-per-second upload speeds.

Curt Friesen, a Republican and farmer from Henderson, says a bill expanding the service would improve farmers’ and ranchers’ bottom line and boost rural economies. “I think we have an opportunity for rural Nebraska communities to attract some of these people back to their communities where they might continue to work at these high-paying jobs wherever they are at across the country,” he says.

He tells Brownfield many parts of the state don’t have access to high-speed internet because providers don’t see the investment as an economical opportunity. “But when you get out into the rural areas where you may have one customer per mile and you have the cost of fiber I’ve heard anywhere from $15,000 to $25,000 per mile and you have one customer per mile it’s kind of hard to make the case of laying broadband out there,” he says.

The bill would require grant recipients to upgrade service to at least 100/100 within 18 months and to put up matching funds. Internet speeds for the completed project would be tested and the grant money would have to be repaid if the speeds fall short of the 100/100 goal.  

The bill also would direct broadband expansion funds expected from the federal Rescue Act into the grant program. The federal legislation allocated $7 billion nationwide to the effort.

Friesen says a study has shown it would cost several billion dollars to bring rural broadband to every part of the state.

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