Montana Senate Bill 51 has advanced thanks to the support of a slim majority, reports the Independent Record. SB 51 seeks to provide tax breaks to companies that install coaxial cable for broadband or lay fiber optic cables. While support was not unanimous, both political parties have said they are in favor of expanding broadband access in Montana, particularly in rural areas.
“It’s not magic but it’s a step in the right direction,” said State Senator Jason Ellsworth, one of the authors of SB 51. “We obviously need more connectivity.”
Critics of the bill contend that the while the bill is designed to eliminate property taxes on laid cable for five years, then restore them at a gain of 20 percent over the next five years, the bill will not adequately benefit the underinsured. Some expressed concerns that out of state companies would be the ones to reap the rewards, others noted that “rural” describes most of Montana and does not provide enough direction.
Weighing in, Montana Governor Greg Gianforte has indicated his support for broadband expansion, which would be aided by SB 51. State Senator Greg Hertz added his support for the bill noting that SB 51 would address broadband outreach on a local level, shoring up plans that are already in place in Montana that receive federal funding.
However, the same local focus touted by Hertz was seen as a detriment to others like State Senator Edie McClafferty, who worried SB 51 would shift the tax burden to local communities. State Senator Jill Cohenour agreed, saying she favored a revolving loan program with a statewide coordinator.
SB 51 has been forwarded to the Senate Finance and Claims Committee for review.