Today, Representative Szoka introduced the BRIGHT Futures Act, a Bill focused on accelerating digital infrastructure and economic development in rural and unserved areas of North Carolina by connecting them to the key markets of Broadband, Retail online services, Internet of Things, GridPower, Healthcare, and Training and Education. Representatives Jason Saine (97th District), Susan Martin (8th District), and Brenden Jones (46th District), joined as primary sponsors. A companion bill will also be introduced later today by Senator Wesley Meredith (19th District) in the North Carolina Senate.
Recognizing the need to rapidly develop the digital infrastructure necessary for economic development and innovation in these key economic segments, known collectively by the acronym “BRIGHT” markets, the Bill clarifies the opportunity for Public-Private Partnerships to pursue this development. The Bill also directs those responsible for existing economic development programs to report directly on how effectively these programs are in accelerating innovation and jobs in the BRIGHT Markets. Finally, it directs the Office of Science, Technology, and Innovation, within the Department of Commerce for recommendations on how best to establish BRIGHT Futures Fund that could operate over the next five years to provide annual grants or loans to accelerate innovation and investment in BRIGHT Market enterprises.
“Rural and underserved areas have historically been left behind when key technology and infrastructure have been required for economic development,” says Representative Szoka. “This Bill clarifies the ability of Public-Private Partnerships to find ways to develop this critical infrastructure, and continues the tradition that led to innovative business models in the past.”
Introducing the companion Bill, Senator Meredith commented, “With the second largest rural population in the nation, it is critical that we unleash all the powers of creativity and innovation to find ways to connect this one-third of our state’s population to the opportunities and growth that will flow from new products and services in these BRIGHT Market segments.”
“The rapid growth of gigabit fiber networks and computer automation threaten to leave behind vast areas of North Carolina,” Representative Jason Saine. “North Carolina can be a leader in these BRIGHT Markets, but not if we leave behind the 3.3 million people who live in the eighty-five counties that are considered rural,” he went on to say.
Representing some of the lowest income areas in the state, Representative Jones, “The changes in technology will create huge opportunities in these BRIGHT Markets and we must find a way for those in our rural and unserved areas to connect to them.”
Representative Susan Martin, “In this fast changing economy, we can no longer tell people and businesses that they have to wait for critical infrastructure and services. This Bill makes it clear that we are looking for innovative, and immediate, solutions from those interested in serving this large and critical population.”
Joining the General Assembly members at the press conference was Lieutenant Governor Dan Forest who praised the proposed legislation as being the next step in the process of connecting all North Carolinians. “Our state will already be the first in the nation to have every classroom connected to high-speed broadband. The BRIGHT Futures Act builds on the hard work and forward thinking that the General Assembly has dedicated to connecting our schools to now finish the last mile that has separated our rural communities from our urban corridors. North Carolina is blessed with some of the greatest infrastructure for innovation and economic development, from Research Triangle Park to a statewide fiber network, to our universities, healthcare facilities, and private sector engines of innovation, but we can no longer allow vast portions of our state to fall behind because that infrastructure does not reach them. This Bill sets a vision and a roadmap that can organize the great forces of innovation in a way to connect everyone in the state.”