Senate Review: the digital era is changing Oklahoma as we know it

There is a saying—as rural Oklahoma goes, so goes Oklahoma. Rural communities need the same access to broadband internet that Oklahoma’s metropolitan communities have.

When Governor Kevin Stitt gave his state of the state address last week, he talked about innovative approaches to moving our state forward. He talked about the emphasis his administration would have on what he called the digital transformation of state agencies to make government more customer-center and efficient.  

He gave examples of innovations like digital driver licenses that are Real ID compliant. He talked about titles being available electronically or a single site where Oklahomans could get occupational licenses and another site to pay taxes.  All of these innovations could save time and make these transactions so much more convenient for our citizens.

No doubt the digital era is changing the world as we know it.  A mom and pop business in Oklahoma can go global overnight.  Goods, services and information many could never have accessed before are all available in the digital era. Telemedicine, e-commerce, distance learning can bring the world to our fingertips.  

Rural Oklahoma can and must be a part of the opportunities that are already out there and those that are being developed and launched every passing day.  But one of the things that is holding our rural communities back is lack of access to broadband Internet service.

It’s something I hope to address this session through Senate Bill 1002, the “Facilitating Internet Broadband Rural Expansion (FIBRE) Act.  The goal is to allow for fair practices regarding the use of existing co-op lines for telecoms wishing to provide broadband services in rural areas where these services are greatly needed.

When you look at power poles, you may not realize that they may carry more than electricity. There may be other kinds of utilities, like telecom companies, that pay a fee for the use of those same poles.  But right now, there’s a difference in how a power company like OGE charges for access to their lines compared to co-op lines in other parts of the state.  

We need to make sure there are set fees that are equitable to the entities that own the poles and the utilities needing access—this will promote transparency for all involved, which will in turn promote greater build-out of rural accessibility to broadband services.  Transparency will encourage greater competition, and that is something that will benefit consumers by helping make services more affordable.

There is a saying—as rural Oklahoma goes, so goes Oklahoma.  It’s the truth.  Rural communities need and deserve the same access to broadband internet that Oklahoma’s metropolitan communities have. A level playing field, transparency, and competition will make that happen.  That’s exactly what my legislation is designed to do for our rural communities.

I thank you for the privilege of being your voice at the State Capitol.  If you have any questions or concerns about legislation or other issues at the state level, please feel free to contact my office by calling 405-521-5528, or email leewright@oksenate.gov. 

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