Governor Ricketts Highlights “Connect Nebraska” Broadband Initiative

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Press release :

Governor Ricketts Highlights “Connect Nebraska” Broadband Initiative

From left to right: ASL interpreter Kelly Brakenhoff; Dan Watermeier, chairman of the Nebraska Public Service Commission;

Governor Ricketts (podium); and Patrick Redmond, National Broadband Coordinator

LINCOLN– Today, Governor Pete Ricketts held a press conference to highlight the state’s plans to expand reliable, high-speed Internet service across Nebraska. The Governor was joined by members of the Connect Nebraska Task Force, a team of leaders responsible for maximizing state and federal funds to expand broadband. Led by state broadband coordinator Patrick Redmond, the task force includes representatives from the Nebraska Public Service Commission, the Office of the Chief Information Officer and the state Budget Office.

During his remarks, Governor Ricketts also underscored the state’s desire to effectively and efficiently use new sources of funding for broadband expansion.

“Nebraska has been developing its broadband infrastructure for several years. It gave us a head start,” Governor Ricketts said. “Unlike many other states, we already have the legislative framework and operational process in place to manage state and federal broadband subsidy programs and expand high-speed Internet access. Connected Nebraska, in especially in our rural areas, is essential to develop our state.”

Patrick Redmond, the state broadband coordinator, outlined four new federal programs that the Connect Nebraska task force will help administer. Next week, the State is launching a website, broadband.nebraska.gov, to serve as the main clearinghouse for new broadband programs. The website will also serve as a portal for grant applications.

Below is a summary of the new broadband programs:

  1. The Capital Projects Fund
    • This spring, the Unicameral passed LB 1024th to clarify Nebraska’s intended use of funds received from the Capital Projects Fund under the federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA). Last week, the US Treasury Department approved Nebraska’s plan to use $87.7 million of the funds for broadband infrastructure.

Three other programs created under the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will provide additional funding to Nebraska for broadband infrastructure.

  1. Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program
    • The goal of the BEAD program is to provide broadband to unserved locations (speeds below 25/3 mpbs); underserved locations (speeds below 100/10 mpbs); and community-based institutions such as schools, libraries and health clinics.
      • Nebraska will receive at least $100 million in BEAD funds, with more money expected due to rising broadband construction costs as a rural and geographically sprawling state.
  2. Digital Equity Grant Program
    • The state is receiving at least $7 million through this program to ensure that Nebraskanians in all areas of the state have the tools and training necessary to make the most of Internet resources. Digital equity grants can be used for purposes such as digital literacy training, workforce development, and improving access to electronic devices.
  3. Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure Grant Program
    • Entities such as Internet Service Providers and Public Electric Districts can apply for Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure Grants. These funds can be used to build, improve or acquire broadband infrastructure that does not connect directly to an end-user location such as a home or school. This includes towers, fiber, and other physical infrastructure through which networks exchange Internet traffic.

In recent years, the State of Nebraska has taken steps to investigate gaps in the state’s Internet coverage and invest in expanding high-speed Internet access:

  • In 2018, Governor Ricketts signed into law LB 994 to create the Rural Broadband Task Force. Chaired by Ed Toner, state chief information officer and chairman of the Nebraska Information Technology Commission, the task force worked to assess rural Nebraska’s broadband needs and recommend actions to increase broadband Internet access.
  • In 2020, the state of Nebraska allocated nearly $30 million in federal coronavirus assistance to connect more than 20,000 homes to broadband.
  • In 2021, the Governor signed into law the Rural Broadband Bridge Act (LB 388). It has invested $40 million ($20 million per year in 2021 and 2022) to help an additional 30,000 households get broadband connectivity.
  • In 2022, Governor Ricketts signed law LB1144. It amended the Rural Broadband Bridge Act to change the required match (from 50% to 25%) for grant recipients working on projects in high-cost areas. It is therefore more financially viable for providers to build broadband in rural parts of the state.

Video of today’s press conference is available at click here.

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