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Ensuring all Nebraskans can access reliable, high-speed internet service is the focal point of Nebraska Farm Bureau’s engagement with the Nebraska Rural Broadband Task Force.

As the Task Force nears a November deadline for making recommendations to the Legislature on how to improve broadband service in rural areas, Nebraska Farm Bureau offered a series of suggestions to the group.

“Approximately one out of every 10 Nebraskans report significant limitations with their internet service, while just over half of rural Nebraskans have internet service with download and upload speeds that meet the federal ‘broadband’ definition,” said Steve Nelson, Nebraska Farm Bureau president. “It’s critical to the future of Nebraska that we make strides in improving broadband deployment statewide. We can’t afford to fall behind.”

Among Nebraska Farm Bureau’s recommendations to the Task Force are:

- Requiring internet service providers to meet the basic federal definition of “broadband” (25 Megabytes per second download and 3 Megabytes per second upload) to receive taxpayer support for broadband development or to be shielded from subsidized competition.

- Recognition by the Public Service Commission (PSC) that fiber deployment might not be the most efficient and affordable way for rural residents to receive high-speed internet service and encouragement of the PSC to be open to evolving technology to address cost and logistical problems for rural broadband deployment.

- Support for PSC to use a grant process for broadband project support and support for public-private partnerships that encourage collaboration between internet carriers, businesses, farms, ranches, cooperatives, as well as schools, municipalities, counties, and public power providers.

- Support for the development of cooperatives for the sole purpose of broadband deployment.

- Support for allocating Nebraska Universal Service Fund (NUSF) dollars to telecommunications companies that experienced damaged infrastructure due to severe weather events and natural disasters if replacement dollars are used to ensure internet services meet the federal “broadband” definition for download and upload speeds.

- Emphasis on the need for more accurate data to ensure precise mapping of broadband services, given such maps are used to identify underserved areas and subsequently receive priority for federal funds for broadband improvement.

- Support for the establishment of a Subcommittee on Agriculture within the Task Force given the importance of broadband to agriculture and the state’s economy.

“Improving and expanding broadband isn’t just vital to farmers and ranchers wanting to use new technologies. It’s vital to our communities, all rural businesses, and future economic growth. It’s critical to our children’s educational opportunities. It’s important to the next generation of rural Nebraskans, as young people won’t return to rural Nebraska without it,” Nelson said. “Access to high-speed, high quality internet has become a necessity.”

The Nebraska Rural Broadband Task Force was created by the Legislature’s passage and Governor Ricketts signing of LB 994 in 2018. The bill was introduced by Sen. Curt Friesen of Henderson. The Task Force was charged with reviewing issues related to the availability, adoption, and affordability of broadband services in rural Nebraska and is required to present its recommendations and findings to the Legislature by Nov. 1.

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