FRANKFORT, Ky. — A bill that would create a framework for future funding of broadband deployment grants in the commonwealth has advanced to the Senate.
House Bill 362 primary co-sponsor Rep. Phillip Pratt, R-Georgetown, said the broadband deployment program set out under the bill would allow government agencies or private entities to apply for state grants for broadband infrastructure projects in defined unserved and underserved areas of the state. The Kentucky Infrastructure Authority would administer the program, which would require grant applicants to pay 50 percent of the project cost.
HB 362 does not include an appropriation for the grant program, said Pratt. It would instead put a structure in place for the program to be funded in the future.
Rep. Richard Heath, R-Mayfield, is also a primary co-sponsor of the bill.
“While future appropriations are essential to the fund, the program stakeholders agree that a framework for the grant fund must be established first,” Pratt said, adding HB 362 would help to remedy the “significant cost” of expanding broadband to less densely populated areas.
“Absent some combination of federal and state support, many high-cost broadband deployment areas in the commonwealth will remain underserved or unserved. HB 362 is one way we can work to close the digital divide,” Pratt told the House.
At least 31 states including Indiana and Tennessee now offer some kind of incentives for broadband deployment based on recent news reports, Pratt added.
One lawmaker opposing the bill was Rep. Maria Sorolis, D-Louisville. While Sorolis said she supports the goal of the bill, she was doubtful the goal can be reached under the legislation.
“I’d just like to see (the bill) put together in a fashion … that the goals could be accomplished, it wouldn’t be cherry-picked by big corporations, and that perhaps we could use this as an opportunity to fund and fuel some home-grown business in those areas of our state that are deserving and in need,” Sorolis said.
Pratt said HB 362 will help meet that need by putting the grant framework in place.
“Broadband providers are aggressively pursuing federal and state grants and loans throughout the country as they seek public-private partnerships to advance broadband deployment,” he said.
HB 362 passed the House 82-11.