A Review of State Tech Policy Trends and What to Watch for in 2022
By Nicole Morgenstern
Historically, some advancements in tech policy have moved more quickly at the state level than they do at the federal level. Individual state policies may ultimately influence the direction of federal legislation.
With this in mind, Advancing Justice — AAJC has monitored and tracked state-level tech policy throughout the 2021 legislation cycle to better understand future priorities and track some common themes in tech policies across the United States.
Advancing Justice-AAJC has identified 6 major trends to watch in state-level tech policy this year. In a time when internet connectivity is essential for families and children, advancements in policy and investment in tech help to provide critical resources and services to our communities and ensure they are protected online.
#1: Broadband Access Legislation
As individuals and families continue to work and learn from home since 2020, broadband access legislation has become a priority across the United States. In the past legislative cycle, state legislatures introduced more than 500 pieces of legislation related to broadband access ranging from allocating increased funds for building broadband infrastructure to conducting universal internet studies. The majority of the proposed legislation fall under three primary categories:
Broadband infrastructure policies can include provisions for utility pole replacements, transitioning to hard-wired access over wireless broadband, and increasing access to broadband in public spaces and public housing.
- Texas Senate Bill 507 allows for an accommodation from the Texas Department of Transportation to give broadband-only providers access to rights-of-way, making it easier for these companies to build in areas with limited infrastructure.
- New York Assembly Bill 2330 requires new electrical, telephone, and internet transmission lines to be buried underground and directs the public service commission to study the feasibility and cost of burying all or most of the electrical, telephone and internet transmission lines in New York State.
Grants/Funding for Broadband-related projects: This includes legislation focused on appropriating funds for broadband infrastructure, funding broadband access in rural/underserved communities, and specifying funds for marginalized groups and low-income families.
- The Broadband Connectivity Grant Program in New Hampshire could leverage up to $100 million in federal support to expand internet service across the state.
- The Broadband Infrastructure Grant Program in Hawai’i awards grants to approved applicants to expand broadband infrastructure in unserved areas of the state.
Broadband access studies: In addition to expanded broadband access, legislators focused on addressing insufficient access to broadband internet in communities across their states. Broadband access studies allow states to better address the digital divide and bring high-speed quality internet service to communities that are currently underserved.
- Oklahoma Corporation Commission Reform Act requires private broadband providers to submit data on broadband access across the state.
- Texas House Bill 5 creates a State Broadband Plan and a State Broadband Office which will oversee the development of an infrastructure funding program and a state broadband map to outline underserved and unserved communities.
- The Indiana Broadband Connectivity Program establishes a public broadband portal where individuals can report if minimum broadband speeds (as defined as 25 megabits per second downstream and 3 megabits per second upstream) is unavailable at a particular address with the goal of increasing the percentage of access to high-speed, high-quality broadband access over the next three to five years.
#2: Consumer Protections & Data Privacy
From mandating that companies get consent before collecting and selling consumer data to holding social media companies liable for speech censorship, state legislatures have introduced more than 60 pieces of legislation focused on consumer protections and data privacy-related legislation.
- The Protect Personal Data Privacy law in Colorado addresses consumers’ rights to privacy through allowing consumers to opt out of having their data collected and requiring companies to disclose what data they keep and what they do with it.
- The Consumer Data Protection Act in Virginia allows residents to opt out of having their personal data used for advertising purposes. Unlike California’s data privacy act, Virginia will not permit individuals to bring lawsuits against tech companies for violations, which will instead be enforced by the state’s attorney general.
- The Consumer Fraud and Deceptive Business Practices Act in Illinois, which prohibits telephone, cellular, television, internet, energy, and water services from imposing a fee for termination or early cancelation of a contract if the consumer dies before the end of contract.
#3: Tax Credits
In addition to the broadband and consumer related legislation, state legislatures have leveraged tax credits to advance several technology priorities including broadband infrastructure, investments in artificial intelligence and cybersecurity, and online learning.
In 2021, state legislatures introduced more than 20 proposed pieces of legislation focused on tax credits, including tax credits for the cost of equipment and materials used in providing broadband services, income tax credits for improvements to broadband telecommunications in specific areas, and tax credits plus a partial reimbursement for internet connectivity for people who move to rural Maine.
- An Act Exempting Certain Fiber Optic or Coaxial Cable from Property Taxation in Montana exempts certain fiber optic and coaxial cable from property taxation.
- The Budget Coordination Act of 2021 in Oklahoma which provides a sales tax exemption with respect to certain equipment used for broadband access.
As students across the U.S continue to participate in remote learning, state legislators introduced more than 60 pieces of legislation focused on digital literacy, remote learning equipment, and improved broadband infrastructure both in schools and at home.
Proposed legislation includes appropriating money for online/distance learning, installing wireless internet in public schools and institutions of higher education, allocating a reimbursement for low-income parents for school expenses during distance learning, and requiring school districts to ensure students K-12 have access to high-speed internet.
- The Remote Education Technology Infrastructure Act of New Mexico requires that the capital outlay council establish guidelines to fund the physical hardware necessary to establish broadband connectivity, along with the educational resources needed for both students and teachers, whether in school or remote learning.
- The Public Internet Connectivity Act in Texas, requires the assessment of instruments in public schools and, to a certain measure, supports internet connectivity for the purposes of these assessments.
#5: Municipal (Tech-related) Offices
Several states introduced legislation that would create new municipal offices centered around broadband investment, broadband infrastructure, digital inclusion and equity, and election security.
Proposed legislation include appropriating funds for the establishment and staffing of a digital and equity offices in the Governor’s office in Hawai’i; and the creation of the Digital Inclusion office in the Department of Housing and Community Development in Maryland which must develop a statewide plan to ensure all state residents are able to connect to reliable broadband internet by December 2029.
In response to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, many states proposed relief programs that included provisions for broadband connection support.
- The Covid-19 Relief Act in North Carolina includes funding increased access to digital learning resources in public libraries and funding for students to receive complimentary internet service.
- The Covid-19 Relief Act in Vermont includes funding for broadband, including for associated equipment such as routers and modems; and provided additional funding for the Covid-19 Temporary Broadband Lifeline program.
Looking forward, we can anticipate that several of these trends will continue, especially steady momentum around data privacy and consumer protection laws, and continued efforts to expand broadband access.
These emerging state-level tech policy trends play an important role in improving current broadband infrastructure, increasing access to digital services and resources for communities, and ensuring our privacy is protected. While together these legislation allow us to see how far we’ve come, there is certainly a long way to go. As we monitor advancements in tech policy at the state and local level, Advancing Justice — AAJC will continue to advocate for broader federal action to bridge the digital divide in our communities.
Nicole Morgenstern is the Programs and Executive Assistant at Asian Americans Advancing Justice — AAJC.