(The Center Square) – The Louisiana House of Representatives on Wednesday approved a bill meant to promote access to high-speed internet service in rural areas.
Senate Bill 406 by Sen. Beth Mizell, a Franklinton Republican, would let member-owned electricity co-ops partner with internet providers in areas where broadband is not already available, which Mizell said is about 40 percent of the state. Co-ops could let affiliates use their electricity infrastructure and issue debt on behalf of the affiliate.
The Federal Communications Commission has established the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund to distribute $20.4 billion over 10 years to places with limited or no broadband access, and state officials hope to bring some of that money to Louisiana.
“This is as important as having roads and bridges in rural areas,” said Rep. Malinda White, a Bogalusa Democrat.
Co-ops and some lawmakers objected to language in the bill limiting its provisions to unserved areas, saying lawmakers should not restrict competition. But House members rejected amendments seeking to eliminate that restriction and ultimately approved the bill unanimously. It now heads back to the Senate to resolve differences with the House version.
The House rejected Senate Bill 50, which would ban drivers from holding and using their phones while driving. Drivers still would have been able to take calls without using their hands.
Supporters said the measure would improve safety and likely lead to lower auto insurance rates. Louisiana already bans texting while driving, but the ban is hard to enforce because a driver can claim they were doing something else.
But critics said the bill would give too much leeway to police officers, possibly giving an excuse for racial profiling when an officer falsely claims a driver was holding their phone. Rep. Raymond Crews, R-Bossier City, pointed out that drivers already can pull someone over for erratic driving.