New state office aims to make broadband more reliable for rural Nebraskans

LINCOLN, Neb. (KLKN) – Supporters of a bill in the Nebraska Legislature say it would help to fulfill Nebraska’s internet needs.

LB 683, backed by Gov. Jim Pillen and a number of senators, would fund a new broadband office in the Department of Transportation.

The office, which Pillen has already created, would function as a coordinator for broadband policy, helping to cast a vision for development in the future and finding sources of funds.

The Public Service Commission has been managing broadband for years but said working with this new office could help address underserved areas.

Nebraska Director of Telecommunications Cullen Robbins said everything from work to school to scheduling a doctor’s appointment can all be done digitally now, increasing the need for reliable internet.

“All those things are starting to really depend on broadband connectivity and somebody’s ability not just to access it but to know how to use it,” he said.

The cost of the new office and its staff would be about $1.7 million a year.

But interim Director Patrick Redmond says that number could approach $8 million with administrative costs such as maintaining a state map and hiring a consultant.

Yet he said there will be no cost to the state or its general fund, as much of the money comes from federal sources.

Senators working on the bill said while there haven’t been major problems with the way the Public Service Commission has been running broadband, the group already runs a lot of different telecommunications functions in the state.

Sen. Mike Moser said this new office would allow one central group to focus on getting broadband internet access to all Nebraskans, not just the more populated areas.

“One of the functions of this office is to try to get better coverage in the far-flung parts of the state,” he said. “A lot of the new farm equipment uses the internet and GPS positioning to operate. And so, we need to make sure we’ve got good broadband everywhere.”

Moser said the only real opposition to the bill has been that it switches some of the responsibility from the PSC to the governor’s office.

But he said since both offices are elected positions, it shouldn’t make much of a difference.

“(Pillen) realizes that broadband is a serious issue in Nebraska, and that’s why he wants this Cabinet position created and funded,” Moser said. “So he has more control over it, so he has more leadership that he can exert to improve broadband in Nebraska.”

The bill would go into effect as soon as it’s passed.

Over the next week, the PSC will host a number of listening sessions to hear from rural Nebraskans on their internet needs.

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