Delaware is working on universal internet coverage





A $110 million grant brings high-speed internet to Delaware homes without it, and anyone who wants it just needs to sign up.

sen. Brian Pettyjohn, R-Georgetown, held a forum on April 12 to explain the grant that gave Comcast, Verizon and Mediacom millions of dollars to lay fiber optic cable — a material that offers the fastest Internet speeds in the industry — for last-mile connections to more than 11,000 homes.

“It’s a priority of mine, and that of the last two administrations here in Delaware, to achieve that,” Pettyjohn said. “With the funding we’ve had from the federal government, we want to be pretty much the first state to have universal connectivity for every business, every home, every address in our state.”

Over the next 36 months, the three internet providers will install fiber optics at homes and businesses that currently do not have internet access. However, homes that already have a copper or coax connection are not eligible for an upgrade. The grant is not intended to create competition in the Internet market, although officials said they hear frequent complaints from consumers about the lack of competition in what more often than not is a single-provider Internet market in Delaware.

This is only for disconnected homes, said Chris Cohan, head of policy and communications for the Department of Technology and Information. “This is all fiber to the homes, so we’re excited about that,” he said. “I think this is the first in the nation.”

Under the grant, homes in rural areas, even those with miles of driveways, can now get the fiber optic cable installed pro bono, Pettyjohn said.

In this case, DTI chief information officer Jason Clarke said Delaware’s small size is a real advantage. “We don’t have to cross mountains. We don’t have rocky ground to dredge through,’ he said.

Residents and businesses seeking high-speed connectivity can contact DTI on its website at broadband.delaware.gov. By typing in an address, the site will display the internet speed at the property. A map of internet coverage in the state also shows dead zones where there is no coverage, and anyone unsure of their internet status can find more information on the DTI website.

legal wrap

Latest marijuana bills disappear from the commission

Two marijuana bills — the latest iterations of three previous efforts to legalize adult marijuana and create a regulated market in Delaware — were removed from the committee on April 13.

House Bill 371 would remove all penalties for adults 21 and older for possession of up to 1 ounce of marijuana, and the bill only needs a simple majority to pass.

A second bill, HB 372, provides a framework for regulating a marijuana industry in Delaware, but requires a three-fifths vote due to tax and benefit implications.

Both bills are awaiting action in the House of Representatives.

Tax Rebate Bill Passes House

A bill that would give all resident taxpayers of Delaware a $300 rebate passed the House on April 7 by 35-3 votes. Three representatives were absent.

Under the bill, payment of the $300 will be made by the Delaware Department of Finance to resident taxpayers who have filed a 2020 income tax return. This payment is made to any taxpayer, including those who have applied jointly. No action on the part of a taxpayer is required to receive the $300.

The bill awaits action in the Senate Finance Committee.

Abuse of Power Prevention Act Gets Out of Commission

A bill to update official misconduct by officials was removed from a Senate committee on April 13 and awaits action in the Senate.

Senate Bill 256, known as the Abuse of Power Prevention Act, would ensure appropriate accountability for officials who abuse their position of power and public trust. The statute establishes a degree of punishment for official misconduct that is proportionate to the seriousness of the misconduct. In addition, this statute aligns the discrimination language with the language used in the hate crime statute.

Increased Pet Loss or Injury Compensation Proposed

On April 6, a bill was introduced that would change Delaware’s law in cases where an animal is killed or injured.

Sponsored by Senator Ernie Lopez, R-Lewes, Senate Bill 258 would extend damages related to injured or deceased pets unlawfully injured by a third party or third party animal.

Under current law, an owner is only allowed to recover a pet’s market value regardless of the amount of veterinary bills or costs associated with care resulting from a tort. This law provides for damages of up to $15,000 in veterinary bills for injuries, the fair market value of a deceased pet, and up to $15,000 for emotional trauma suffered by the pet owner. Under this law, the maximum recoverable amount available as compensation for a pet’s tort is $30,000 plus the pet’s fair market value in the event the pet’s death is caused by tort.

Pass paid leave account

The Healthy Delaware Families Act, which grants eligible employees up to 12 weeks of paid parental leave per year and up to six weeks of paid family care leave, was passed by the House on April 14 by 29-11 votes, with one absentee.

The bill was passed by the Senate in March and now needs Governor John Carney’s signature to become law.

During their furlough, employees would receive up to 80% of their average weekly wages through the state insurance program.

A one-time expense of $17.7 million would be required to set up the fiscal year 2023 program, with $3.4 million in ongoing charges. Ongoing charges increase to $6.6 million in FY2024, but would split in FY 25 — the year the program kicks off — with $3.7 million from the general fund and an additional $3.7 million from special funds, mainly consisting of payroll taxes.

Employers and employees would each pay 0.04% payroll tax to fund the program; future costs are expected to increase by 2% per year, according to the controller-general’s tax note.

The Department of Labor is in charge of administering and enforcing the program. Companies with fewer than 25 employees get some breaks. Companies that break the law can be fined up to $5,000 and face civil suits.




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