A $110 million grant is bringing high-speed internet to Delaware homes without it, and anyone who wants it just needs to apply.
Sen. Brian Pettyjohn, R-Georgetown, held a forum April 12 to explain the grant that has given millions of dollars to Comcast, Verizon and Mediacom to lay fiber optic cable – a material that provides the industry’s fastest internet speeds – for last-mile connections to more than 11,000 homes.
“It’s been a priority of mine, and that of the last two administrations here in Delaware, to accomplish that,” Pettyjohn said. “With the funding we were able to get from the federal government, we’re looking at pretty much being the first state that has universal connectivity for every business, every home, every address within our state.”
Over the next 36 months, the three internet providers will be laying fiber-optic cable to homes and businesses that currently do not have internet access. Homes that already have copper or coax connections, however, won’t be eligible for an upgrade. The grant is not intended to create competition in the internet market, even though officials said they regularly hear consumer complaints over the lack of competition in what is more often than not a single-provider internet market in Delaware.
This is only for homes with no connection, said Chris Cohan, chief 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 mile-long driveways, Pettyjohn said, can now get the fiber optic cable installed pro bono.
In this case, Jason Clarke, chief information officer for DTI, said Delaware’s small size is a real advantage. “We don’t have mountains to cross. We don’t have rocky soil to dredge through,” he said.
Residents and businesses that want a high-speed connection can reach out to DTI on its website at broadband.delaware.gov. By typing in an address, the site will show the internet speed at the property. A map of internet coverage across the state also shows dead zones where there is no coverage, and anyone unsure of their internet status can find more information at the DTI website.
Latest marijuana bills move out of committee
Two marijuana bills – the latest iterations of three previous attempts to legalize marijuana for adults and create a regulated market in Delaware – were moved out of committee April 13.
House Bill 371 would remove all penalties for adults 21 and older for possession up to 1 ounce of marijuana, and the bill needs only 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 majority because of tax and fee implications.
Both bills await action in the House.
Tax rebate bill passes House
A bill that would give all Delaware resident taxpayers a $300 rebate passed the House April 7 by a 35-3 vote. Three representatives were absent.
Under the bill, payment of the $300 will be made by the Delaware Department of Finance to resident taxpayers who filed a 2020 personal income tax return. This payment will be made to each taxpayer, including those who jointly filed. 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 moves out of committee
A bill to update official misconduct by public officials moved out of a Senate committee April 13 and awaits action in the Senate.
Senate Bill 256, known as the Abuse of Power Prevention Act, would ensure appropriate accountability of public servants who abuse their positions of power and public trust. The statute establishes a grade in the penalty for the official misconduct to be commensurate to the gravity of the misconduct. In addition, this statute conforms the discrimination language to the language used in the hate crimes statute.
Increased damages for loss or injury of pet proposed
A bill that would amend Delaware law in cases where an animal is killed or injured was introduced April 6.
Sponsored by Sen. Ernie Lopez, R-Lewes, Senate Bill 258 would expand damages related to injured or deceased pets that are tortiously injured by a third party or a third party’s animal.
Under current law, an owner is only permitted to recover the fair market value of a pet, regardless of the amount of veterinary bills or expenses related to care stemming from a tortious injury. This act 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’s owner. Under this Act, the maximum recoverable sum available as compensation for tortious injury to a pet is $30,000 plus the fair market value of the pet in the event the pet’s death is caused by tortious injury.
Paid leave bill passes
The Healthy Delaware Families Act, giving eligible workers up to 12 weeks of paid parental leave a year, and up to six weeks of paid leave for family caregiving, passed the House April 14 by a 29-11 vote with one absent.
The bill passed the Senate in March, and now needs Gov. John Carney’s signature to become law.
During their leave, workers would receive up to 80% of their average weekly wages through the state insurance program.
A one-time cost of $17.7 million would be needed to set up the program for fiscal year 2023, with $3.4 million in ongoing costs. Ongoing costs increase to $6.6 million in FY2024, but would be split in FY 25 – the year the program kicks off – with $3.7 million coming out of the general fund and another $3.7 million out of special funds mostly made up from payroll taxes.
Employers and employees would each pay .04% in payroll taxes to help fund the program; future costs are expected to increase 2% a year, according to the controller general’s fiscal note.
The Department of Labor is tasked with administering and enforcing the program. Businesses with fewer than 25 employees are given some breaks. Businesses found in violation of the law could be fined up to $5,000 and face civil litigation.