Bill Description: House Bill 640 would involve the Idaho Transportation Department in the business of installing broadband infrastructure.
Amendment Analysis: The Senate Amendment to House Bill 640 does not change the rating, but it does make the bill worse by adding a provision saying the department may install conduit at taxpayer expense "in support of expanding broadband infrastructure in the state of Idaho." This is entirely outside the proper role of government.
Does it transfer a function of the private sector to the government? Examples include government ownership or control of any providers of goods or services such as the Land Board’s purchase of a self-storage facility, mandatory emissions testing, or pre-kindergarten. Conversely, does it eliminate a function of government or return a function of government to the private sector?
House Bill 640 would create a series of six new sections (Section 40-515 through 40-520) in Idaho Code, which it calls the "Idaho Broadband Dig Once and Right-of-Way Act."
The bill makes some broad statements extolling broadband as "a vital component in accomplishing connectivity" that is "in the overall public interest for the state of Idaho in furtherance of the social and economic development of the state."
It instructs the Idaho Transportation Department (ITD) to coordinate its road and highway projects with interested broadband providers, so that the companies may install their conduit and other infrastructure at the same time the road or highway is being constructed or repaired.
Another provision of the bill allows ITD to install its own conduit, which broadband providers may later use. The bill's fiscal note says "typical conduit for broadband use is approximately $5,000 a mile," but it does not say whether that estimate is for the materials alone or if it includes the labor costs for installing it.
The bill further ties government and broadband providers together by allowing that the terms of agreement between them may require that ITD be allowed to use the broadband infrastructure "for public safety warnings, road condition notifications, and amber alerts to motorists on highways."
While there may be some argument for ITD allowing broadband providers access to road and highway projects, taxpayers should not be forced to subsidize the installation or expansion of broadband infrastructure.
The market is capable of supplying internet access with minimal government involvement, and this bill moves Idaho closer to treating broadband as a public utility.
It is worth noting too that other sources of high-speed internet already exist such as satellite home internet (e.g. Starlink) and wireless 5G home internet (e.g. T-Mobile), which make the bill's claims about broadband being "vital" sound more like corporate jargon than sound fiscal policy.
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