BILL OF THE WEEK: House Bill 2184

CHIEF BACKER: Rep. Pam Marsh (D-Ashland)

WHAT PROBLEM IT WOULD SOLVE: The bill would help narrow the technology gulf between Oregon's cities and rural areas. Rural Oregon is a digital dust bowl. In the eastern part of the state, for instance, only two-thirds of residents have broadband internet connections at home, versus 85 percent in Portland.

WHAT THE BILL WOULD DO: Currently, Oregon cellphone users pay the lowest rate of state and local taxes in the nation on their voice service—2.1 percent, according to the Oregon Telecommunications Association. That's less than one-fifth of the national average. Unlike in most states, Oregon cellphone users don't pay a universal service charge as land-line users do. HB 2184 would begin charging users somewhere between $4 and $8 a year and would dedicate the money to developing broadband in rural areas. Best of all: The federal government would match the share of the new money that goes to schools 9 to 1.
Marsh says like rural electrification in the 1930s and '40s, taxing urbanites to pay for broadband for small-town Oregon is part of our social contract. "In our urban areas, we are pursuing better and faster connections all the time," Marsh says. "We still have rural areas that can't get online, but young people will come back to towns where there is technology.
WHO SUPPORTS IT: Rural school districts, health care providers, local governments and the Citizens' Utility Board.
WHO OPPOSES IT:The CTIA, formerly the Cellular Telecommunications and Internet Association, which doesn't want any new taxes.