OKLAHOMA CITY (KFOR) – Oklahoma lawmakers agreed to spend nearly $2 billion in federal pandemic relief money during a special session at the Oklahoma State Capitol Thursday.
Specifically, that money is from the Federal American Rescue Plan Act, a measure that Congress passed back in March 2021, to address critical needs that were heightened during the pandemic.
Included in that vote was a decision to allocate nearly $600 million dollars towards improving broadband access in the state.
Lawmakers told KFOR that if the plan to expand broadband access moves forward, it could have several positive and long-term effects on state infrastructure.
“This will be something that changes how Oklahomans function,” said Rep. Logan Phillips, R-Mounds, who previously co-chaired the state’s Broadband Expansion Council.
National research indicates that about 9 out of 10 people in America use the internet regularly but Phillips said Oklahoma’s access lags, behind other states.
“Population shift out of our rural communities, economic downturn in our suburbs [and] urban areas, mental health issues and lack of hospital access, [broadband access] is the foundational piece to fix all of that,” said Phillips.
“The state legislature passed a $167 million in one pot of money for broadband expansion and $382 million on the other part, giving us a massive start in expanding connectivity to the entire state of Oklahoma,” he continued.
“Republicans and Democrats participated in a very meaningful way to be able to provide for water, broadband, healthcare and many more important issues,” said Greg Treat, current President Pro Tempore of the Oklahoma Senate.
“You need to have broadband,” he added. “It’s not the sexiest investment, but it will have the best return on our dollars that we will see.”
If Governor Stitt signs off on the measure, the money will be sent to the state’s new broadband office, who will decide how the funding will be used.