Rhode Island Law Seeks to Provide Universal Broadband Access

PROVIDENCE, RI – The governor has signed into law legislation sponsored by Rep. Linda Finn and Sen. Juan M. Pichardo aimed at improving access to high-speed Internet for the benefit of residents, businesses and students.

Targeting 100 Percent Access to High-speed Internet
“Even though most of Rhode Island has access to high-speed Internet, there are still pockets of the state that don’t,” said Representative Finn. “With our small size and the fact that we are already so close, we should take advantage of an opportunity to distinguish Rhode Island as the first state with 100-percent access to high-speed Internet. This is a good chance to be at the top of a list that matters to business.”

“Having high-speed Internet makes important opportunities available to businesses, students and job-searchers. It’s an economic development tool that could help Rhode Island and its residents in many ways,” said Senator Pichardo.

The new law creates a special legislative commission to study broadband services and accessibility, with the goal of identifying ways to improve access to high-speed Internet.

The 14-member commission would be expected to:

  • Identify the current level of broadband service statewide, including connection speeds for sending and receiving data that will be reasonably needed by all citizens by 2015;

  • Analyze the policies and actions necessary to eliminate obstacles to the investment in and the identification of areas in the state that currently lack the infrastructure necessary to support broadband service;

  • Explore opportunities for potential public/private sector partnerships and evaluate the various strategies, financing methods, and financial incentives used in other states and countries to support the deployment of high-speed broadband;

  • Review the security, vulnerability, and redundancy actions necessary to ensure the reliability of high-speed broadband;

  • Explore how wide dissemination of high-speed broadband could improve economic development and benefit educational institutions, health care institutions, community-based organizations and government institutions;

  • Assess the current public centers for broadband access as well as potential future plans to enhance access to underserved communities throughout the state.

The commission is to include four representatives; four senators; and the state education commissioner, the Public Utilities Commission chairperson, the Rhode Island Commerce Corporation executive director, the Chief Digital Officer of the Rhode Island Division of Information Technology, the Rhode Island Emergency Management Agency director and the Department of Health director or their designees. It is to issue its findings to the General Assembly by March 31, 2015.

Statewide access to high-speed Internet would better enable businesses to locate and operate in all parts of the state, help improve job prospects for many Rhode Islanders who might be better enabled to work from home and better enable students to participate in online learning and collaboration, said the sponsors.

A national study by the Brookings Institute estimated that for every 1-percent increase in broadband adoption in a state, employment would increase between 2 and 3 percent per year. In Rhode Island, such growth would translate to over 1,000 new jobs per year.


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