Florida Lawmakers Talk Broadband and Immigration

Dan Florida, High-Speed Internet/Broadband, Labor and Immigration, Legislative, Regulation


Lawmakers Look to Boost Broadband in Rural Areas

(NSF/TALLAHASSEE/January 24, 2022) — Florida lawmakers are looking to use at least $400 million in federal stimulus money to to help broadband providers expand services to mostly rural, underserved areas.

But don’t expect to see the money reduce rates for customers.

The Senate Commerce and Tourism Committee on Monday unanimously supported measures (SB 1800 and SB 1802) by Sen. Jim Boyd, R-Bradenton, that would fund a broadband program that lawmakers created last year within the Department of Economic Opportunity.

While voting for the proposal, Sen. Bobby Powell, D-West Palm Beach, and Sen. Jason Pizzo, D-North Miami Beach, noted that not everyone can afford broadband service where it is available.

“I can even pinpoint an area in my district, a block area where people are surrounded by broadband, but it’s not accessible to them,” Powell said.

When asked by Sen. Victor Torres, D-Kissimmee, if customers could see savings from the program, Charter Communications lobbyist Albert Kaminsky said private providers are bearing the cost as they have to seek reimbursement from the state.

“Ultimately, again, (customers) would be taking advantage of this service, so we wouldn’t be passing on additional costs to them by any means,” Kaminsky said. “They’re (companies are) just offering a service.”

Sen. Joe Gruters, R-Sarasota, said the goal is to provide service as Florida ranks second in the number of residents without reliable internet access.

rural broadband

“I’ll say that this bill was all about winners, because when you think about it, 10 percent of Floridians don’t have any service,” Gruters said. “I’d rather not have any discount, but I’d rather have internet access. Because that’s a great equalizer when it comes to employment. I mean, that’s got to be the number one hindrance of growth in some of our rural areas. And I think (an existing) discount program that’s offered by the providers is, when (customers) could prove that they need the assistance, is more than adequate.”

The importance of internet access for work and education became even more clear as businesses and schools went remote during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The 2021 law required municipal electric utilities to offer to broadband providers through mid-2024 a discounted rate of $1 per attachment per year for any new pole attachment necessary to reach an unserved area or consumer. The law prohibits municipal utilities from raising current pole attachment rates for broadband providers before July 31.

A Senate staff analysis of Boyd’s bill said broadband access is available to 98 percent of the state’s urban areas and just 78.6 percent of rural areas.

The disparity is attributed to the cost of building broadband infrastructure “across larger swaths of rural geographic areas.”

“Often, broadband providers who seek to expand their infrastructure are met with denied or delayed utility pole access, or are asked to pay an excessive fee for the attachment, or even replacement of the entire pole,” the Senate report said.

Kaminsky said while the state’s funding proposal is “sizable,” North Carolina has half the number of residents without service and recently advanced a $1 billion broadband package. Still, he said the funding would “supercharge” the industry in Florida.

Before the meeting, Florida TaxWatch released a report that estimated a half-million Floridians, predominantly in rural areas, don’t have access to high-quality internet.

“Though Florida is currently fifth-best in a national ranking of broadband access, there’s clearly still significant room for improvement,” TaxWatch President and CEO Dominic M. Calabro said in a statewide.

The Tallahassee-based group estimated that just under half of the state’s 67 counties are more than 95 percent covered with broadband, ranging from 100 percent in Pinellas County to 1 percent in rural Dixie County. Five other rural counties — Gilchrist, Holmes, Jefferson, Levy, and Washington — are under 50 percent covered.

Under the proposal, pandemic stimulus money would be available to broadband providers at $5,000 or 50 percent of the cost — whichever is less — of the replacement cost for existing utility poles in unserved areas.

The money would be gathered in a new trust fund, with the idea of first using $400 million in federal money for the state to apply for another $100 million from the federal Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund.

The fund was part of a $10 billion allocation in the American Rescue Plan Act to carry out critical capital projects, with an emphasis on broadband infrastructure. Each state was eligible for at least $100 million, with additional money available based on the proportion of the population in rural areas and household incomes below 150 percent of the poverty line.

However, state lawmakers are unsure if the state will be able to get the additional money. as the deadline to apply was Dec. 27.

Rep. Josie Tomkow, R-Polk City, has filed a similar proposal (HB 1543 and HB 1545) in the House.

By Jim Turner, News Service of Florida


Line of strawberry pickers in the hot Florida sun. Migrant workers working for low wages in field.

Senate Refuels Immigration Debate

(NSF/TALLAHASSEE/January 24, 2022) — Three years after Florida lawmakers became embroiled in a fierce debate about so-called “sanctuary cities,” the Senate on Monday began moving forward with another attempt to ratchet up immigration enforcement in the state.

The Republican-controlled Senate Judiciary Committee approved a measure (SB 1808) that is a priority of Gov. Ron DeSantis — but drew sharp criticism from Democrats and immigrant-advocacy groups.

“This bill makes no sense,” Sen. Tina Polsky, D-Boca Raton, said. “It is unconstitutional. It is wrong on a human level.”

Sen. Aaron Bean, R-Fernandina Beach, is sponsoring a controversial immigration bill.
Courtesy News Service of Florida

But Sen. Aaron Bean, a Fernandina Beach who is sponsoring the measure, blasted federal immigration policies and said the bill was intended, at least in part, to prevent undocumented immigrants from being flown into Florida in the “dead of night.”

“We think it’s time to say no to the federal government running this human smuggling operation,” Bean said.

The bill is similar to proposals that DeSantis announced in January during a news conference in Jacksonville. DeSantis and Attorney General Ashley Moody have criticized the Biden administration over immigration policies for months, including with the state filing lawsuits against the federal government and DeSantis sending state officers to help at the border of Texas and Mexico.

Opponents argued Monday that the bill is politically motivated, as DeSantis runs for re-election in November and is considered a potential 2024 Republican presidential candidate.

Perhaps the most-controversial part of the bill would crack down on transportation companies that bring undocumented immigrants into the state. The proposal would bar the state and local governments from contracting with such companies “if the carrier is willfully providing any service in furtherance of transporting an unauthorized alien into the State of Florida knowing that the unauthorized alien entered into or remains in the United States in violation of law.”


Bean pointed to crimes committed by undocumented immigrants after coming to the state, including a murder in Jacksonville. Rep. Ray Rodrigues, R-Estero, called federal border policy a “disaster” and questioned why flights of undocumented immigrants were coming into Florida at night.

“If you’ve got nothing to hide, then why are you sending them in in the middle of the night?” Rodrigues said.

But opponents of the bill said targeting transportation companies could prevent unaccompanied immigrant children from being brought into the state for care and shelter.

“Let’s not play politics with the lives of children,” said Ida Eskamani of the Florida Immigrant Coalition.

The bill also would require counties to enter agreements with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement to participate in a program in which local law-enforcement officers help in immigration enforcement. A Senate staff analysis said 49 Florida law-enforcement agencies already have such agreements.

In addition, the bill would expand a 2019 law that sought to ban sanctuary cities. It would prevent local governments from blocking law-enforcement agencies from sharing information with the state about the immigration status of people in custody.

The 2019 law was designed to spur local law-enforcement agencies to fully comply with federal immigration detainers and share information with federal immigration authorities after undocumented immigrants are in custody.

But U.S. District Judge Beth Bloom in September ruled that two parts of the sanctuary-cities law violated constitutional due-process rights — a ruling the state has appealed. Bloom pointed to what she described as an “immigrant threat narrative” that helped lead to the law.

By Jim Saunders, News Service of Florida