Nebraska is a national leader in the quality of our state highway system. This is no accident — Nebraskans take pride in building high-quality infrastructure and understand the importance of connecting our communities to grow our state. For example, Nebraska’s farmers and ranchers led the charge for rural electrification in the 1930s. With their backing, Nebraska Sen. George Norris co-sponsored the Rural Electrification Act, which was key to bringing electricity to rural communities throughout the state. Today, we have the opportunity to build next-generation infrastructure by expanding reliable, high-speed broadband networks to every corner of Nebraska.
Nebraskans depend on high-speed internet for education, telehealth, precision agriculture, entertainment, e-commerce and a host of other activities. In our digital world, broadband connectivity is basic infrastructure. It’s critical to ensuring that every community has a chance to grow and thrive.
A couple of stories will illustrate this point.
Like many Nebraskans, Riley Kessler — a 2020 graduate of Mullen High School — had to finish his final months of high school remotely last spring during the pandemic. Completing assignments online was anything but easy for Riley, given the lack of adequate broadband options on his family’s ranch. To do his schoolwork, Riley had to travel 10 miles to a hilltop where he could finally make a connection to join Zoom sessions and do homework.
Jason Kvols farms near Laurel and raises pigs. The high-speed internet services at his farm have allowed him to build a new pig barn to double his capacity so that his son can return home to farm.
“I wouldn’t have even considered building this new barn if it wasn’t for the fact that I have access to high-speed and high-quality internet service at the barn’s location,” said Jason. “Because I have good internet, I’m able to use new technology that will allow me to better manage the barns, giving me 24-7 access to monitor and manage feed, water and climate control remotely. Broadband access played a major role in being able to provide this opportunity to grow our operation and bring my son back to the farm.”
These examples show the importance of connecting every community in Nebraska to broadband. Having great internet service opens up opportunities not just for students, but also for ag producers and entrepreneurs.
We have work to do to build out our broadband network in Nebraska. Over 80,000 households in our state lack broadband speeds that meet the Federal Communications Commission benchmark of 25 mbps download speed and 3 mbps upload speed (25/3). As technology improves, the flow of data is increasing. 25/3 is already insufficient for many online activities. As we expand broadband, we don’t just want to meet today’s internet standards. We want to build for the future. In Nebraska, 150,000 households do not have internet speeds of 100 up, 20 down (100/20).
To address our need for more widespread internet access, we directed nearly $30 million of federal coronavirus assistance to begin connecting 17,600 households with broadband. This was essential during the pandemic as many services went online. This session, Legislative Bill 388 can continue the momentum we have built up using the CARES Act resources. As part of LB 388, Sen. Curt Friesen of Henderson, Speaker Mike Hilgers of Lincoln and I are proposing that we invest $20 million in each of the next two years to help 30,000 more households get broadband connectivity. We’re prioritizing unserved areas and those with slower broadband speeds. All of these projects require the applicant to provide 50% of the total development costs. To be eligible for funding, projects must be completed within 18 months.
Any company that receives state funding will be required to build to speeds of 100 up and 100 down so that the broadband networks will meet our future needs. We’re measuring speeds upon completion to ensure this standard is met. When we invest taxpayer resources into infrastructure, we need to make sure we are providing a high-quality product. Settling for lower quality infrastructure won’t allow people the kind of flexibility they need to work from home or to pursue online education.
My vision is to grow Nebraska, and this means creating opportunities in every part of our state — whether urban, suburban or rural. LB 388 will move us closer to bringing broadband coverage to every corner of the state so that geography doesn’t limit opportunity in Nebraska.