Thursday, April 20, 2017

Assembly Committee Approves Broadband, TEACH Bill

The Assembly Committee on Energy and Utilities unanimously approve Assembly Bill 123 today, which makes changes to the Broadband Expansion Grant program and the TEACH program. The Joint Finance Committee will vote on Assembly Bill 123 on Monday, April 24, after which it can be voted on by the full Assembly.

Assembly Bill 123 does the following:

1)      It transfers $6 million from the Universal Service Fund and $5 million from the Federal E-Rate Program to provide additional funding for the state’s Broadband Expansion Grant program. It also allows the Public Service Commission (PSC) to distribute an unlimited amount of broadband expansion grants each year—they are currently only allowed to issue $1.5 million in grants per year.

2)      Transfers all unspent funds in the Universal Service Fund (which currently provides funding for Newsline for the Blind, the Digital Learning Collaboration, Public Library System Aids, TEACH grants and Library Service Contracts) to the Broadband Expansion Grant program on June 30 of each odd-numbered year.  It also allows PSC to use contributions made by telecommunications providers to the USF to fund broadband expansion grants.

3)      Requires the Public Service Commission to consider a potential broadband expansion grant’s impact on the ability of students to access educational opportunities from home.

4)      Extends the TEACH Information Technology Block Grant program to July 1, 2019 (it is currently set to end on July 1, 2017). The bill also allows the Department of Administration to award another round of Information Technology Block Grants to school district this year and expands eligibility for the program to school districts that have16 students per square mile and a membership of 2,500 or less. An additional $7.5 million is transferred from the Federal E-rate Program to fund TEACH contracts.

The companion bill, Senate Bill 49, was passed unanimously be the Senate on April 4. The Senate added an amendment to their version of the bill that prohibits an Internet service provider from collecting information about a customer’s use of Internet services, unless the provider receives express written approval from the customer.

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