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State-and Locally-Owned Broadband Infrastructure Can Ensure Faster Internet and Protect Private Online Data

The fastest internet in the United States is in Chattanooga, Tennessee thanks to a local electric utility expanding into broadband service. Cities like Lincoln, Nebraska and cooperatives in rural areas have also pursued options to boost their local economy with shockingly fast Internet services—but to date, states have yet to fully invest in and unleash the potential of locally-owned broadband or fiber. In addition, when states invest in expanding internet access in a way where the state or a locality ends up owning the infrastructure, the state can set the rules for companies that want to use those lines, allowing for better protection of private data and helping ensure that underserved communities are not left behind.

The National Landscape

Passed in:

Alabama, Massachusetts, Minnesota, Mississippi, Nebraska, Pennsylvania, Tennessee, Washington

Introduced in:

Illinois, New Jersey
Even if a state has enacted a policy, there may be aspects to be strengthened. We can help identify ways to improve lives in your state. Please reach out to our State Line: 1-833-STATES-1.

In The News

“'In today's world, access to ultra-fast broadband is a key factor when people decide where to live and locate new businesses...,' said [Lincoln Mayor Chris] Beutler, who called it the best piece of news in the city.”
“Once the placement agencies understood how reliable and fast the Internet was …, and that there was an untapped workforce, they started offering more jobs. … A few years ago, a Teleworks hub opened in a former strip mall in Booneville. So far, it has created three hundred jobs. 'Three hundred people employed in a small county like this makes a big difference,' Carla Gabbard told me. (Owsley County has around forty-five hundred residents.)”
“In 2010, months after EPB had deployed its fiber-optic technology to home networks, the downtown area was still filled with empty factory buildings. In 2016, an incredibly vibrant tech community has filled many of those vacant buildings with open-office spaces for startups.”


  • Internet service providers who want to partner to expand broadband
  • Utilities
  • Businesses and communities looking for faster internet service


None noted
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Why is the public sector an effective partner for expanding internet access?
Public infrastructure is uniquely situated to be a cost-effective starting point for expanding internet access. Utilities and other public entities often have in place infrastructure and a customer base to help ensure that faster Internet access can take a similar trajectory to rural electrification. Elsewhere, initial public investment can help spark the private sector growth necessary to facilitate faster broadband expansion.
Will private internet service providers sign on?
Because this proposal encourages state and local entities to search for public-private partnerships that can meet local needs, it will encourage local broadband and fiber expansions on conduit systems, like the city-owned but privately-operated fiber service in Lincoln, Nebraska.

Model Policy

This act shall be known as the Internet Access Expansion Act.

To expand fast internet service to underserved parts of STATE.


(a) It is in the interest of STATE and will support long-term economic development, educational opportunities, and improved emergency services, health and quality of life, to better ensure all geographic areas of STATE have access to high-quality, high-speed internet.

(b) Accordingly, there is hereby established the Internet Access Expansion Investment Fund (“the Fund”) to to expand and improve internet access in underserved parts of the state. The Fund is subject to appropriations by the legislature, and can also apply for and receive grant funds for which states or localities are eligible to apply. When applying for funds on behalf of a locality, any monies received shall be held by the Fund and administered on the locality’s behalf.
  • (1) The Internet Access Expansion Investment Fund shall support projects to (i) expand internet access to parts of the state that do not currently have access to speeds of at least 10 megabits per second download speed and one megabit per second of upload speed to achieve service that meets that threshold; and (ii) increase internet speeds to a minimum of 25 megabits per second of download speed and three megabits per second of upload speed for parts of the state that do not yet have access to those speeds.
  • (2) The Fund shall give priority to projects that leverage state or local ownership of broadband infrastructure, with at least 50% of funded projects annually meeting that criteria. Projects shall also be prioritized that advance these objectives:
  • (i) Serve areas with demonstrated local project support, including from local government;
  • (ii) Increase internet access and/or speeds for hospitals, educational institutions, libraries, or government offices;
  • (iii) Demonstrate technical capacity to achieve project goals on a proposed timetable, and preferably within five years.
  • (iv) Achieve cost-efficiency by providing the most service improvements for the least cost, including through leveraging funding sources in addition to the Fund;
  • (3) DEPARTMENT shall promulgate rules and an application program for the Fund within 180 days of passage of this legislation, including to promulgate rules for the service that shall be provided on lines and other infrastructure built or expanded through Fund programs. DEPARTMENT shall provide technical assistance to project applicants to plan, prepare and submit applications.
  • (4) DEPARTMENT shall report annually on the Fund and progress toward increased access to and speed of internet access throughout STATE.

(c) Electric cooperatives and utilities, including municipal utilities, in STATE are hereby permitted to own, lease, construct, maintain and operate broadband or other internet access systems on the electric cooperative or utility’s electric or other utility delivery system(s) and to provide broadband or other internet access services to the public utilizing the electric cooperative or utility’s electric or other utility delivery system(s). Electric cooperatives and utilities are hereby permitted to submit applications to the Internet Access Expansion Investment Fund.
  • (1) DEPARTMENT shall promulgate rules for the service that shall be provided on the broadband or other internet access systems provided on the electric cooperative or utility’s electric or other utility delivery system(s).

(d) If any provision of this act or its application to any person or circumstance is held invalid, the remainder of the act or the application of the provision to other persons or circumstances is not affected.