MILTON, Fla. — Gov. Ron DeSantis announced that a portion of his proposed $115 billion state budget will go toward bringing high-speed Internet access to Floridians who need it.
At a Thursday morning news conference in the Panhandle, the governor said Florida is awarding $144 million in broadband access grants.
The money will be distributed between 58 different Internet access projects in 41 Florida counties, mostly in rural and unincorporated areas.
Polk County is the only one in the Tampa Bay area included in the program, with $4,734,786 going toward 8 miles of fiber optic cable to provide fixed wireless service to underserved locations. The services will hit 22,169 locations in and around Lakeland, Winter Haven, Haines City, and Lake Wales, according to a release from the governor's office.
“One of the aspects of infrastructure that we’ve embraced...is making sure we're expanding access for broadband to make sure that all communities have access to high-speed Internet," DeSantis said. "It’s just important for how our society functions."
This is welcome news for residents in Polk County, particularly educators.
“Schools must prepare students for success in the digital age, and broadband internet has become a vital component of K-12 education," Polk County Schools told us in a statement.
"Many neighborhoods — particularly in rural areas — lack reliable or adequate internet service, so we welcome any efforts to improve access in our community. PCPS has been working with local, state and federal partners to find solutions and improve connectivity for all of our students. Ultimately, we want our students to have the same opportunities as their peers around the state and nation," said Polk Couty Schools.
Polk Vision, a local advocacy organization that has been working to improve area broadband, estimates 25% of people across Polk County have unreliable or no internet access right now.
"It's not always predictable and the speeds aren't always such so that you may stream," said Polk Vision Co-Chair of Smart Communities David Palmer.
Palmer said the state funding for area projects is a crucial step.
"In today's world, broadband connectivity is the same as water and electricity. Those pieces are just as important to the safety, health, and well-being of our citizens," said Palmer.
The new state funding will build on the $400 million that the state put toward expanding broadband access last year, according to DeSantis. The governor also mentioned that his budget proposal includes $30 million for rural infrastructure.
“We need the infrastructure. It’s important for business. It’s important for people to be able to use these tools," he said. "But we also want to make sure that our kids, that there’s a good balance between what’s going on with, like, online or a computer versus what’s going on in kind of the real world and getting out and actually experiencing life."
The expansion of Internet access has been a priority in recent years at both the state and national levels.
The Biden administration's $1 trillion infrastructure package included $14.2 billion for the Affordable Connectivity Program, which was passed in 2021. The program launched in 2022 to provide $30 monthly subsidies on Internet service for millions of lower-income households.
“High-speed internet is not a luxury any longer. It’s a necessity,” Biden said in May 2022.
SpaceX has also launched thousands of Starlink satellites to provide Internet service in remote areas.
Starlink provides high-speed, low latency broadband internet starting at $110 a month for North America, Europe, Australia and now traveling RVs, according to the company's website.
You can watch Gov. DeSantis' full news conference below.