Delaware senator wants settlement funds for Internet services

DOVER — Another person wants a piece of Delaware’s much-sought-after and controversial bank settlement funds.

Sen. Brian Pettyjohn said Tuesday he wants to use some of the state’s $29 million in mortgage-related settlements to provide Internet connectivity for rural areas of Sussex County.

That money comes from agreements with Bank of America and Citigroup and is held by Attorney General Matt Denn, who wants to use it to combat crime, help schools and benefit homeowners.

But the legislature’s budget-writing committee has final say over the spending, and members have been unwilling to commit to any plan at this point.

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Brian Pettyjohn

In a letter to the chairs of the Joint Finance Committee, Sen. Pettyjohn, R-Georgetown, requested the state fund half of the cost. Under his proposal, about $1.6 million from the pot would be used through a partnership with Sussex and an Internet provider.

He said the Department of Technology and Information, Sussex County and a Maryland company have been working on a countywide plan.

“Because of the often sparse nature of housing in rural Sussex, the major carriers including Comcast, Mediacom and Verizon (both DSL and FiOS) cannot justify extending their facilities to most of the landmass of Sussex,” he said in the letter. “In these places where no wireline services are available, many families who require Internet access for educational purposes (either K-12 or post-secondary) are relegated to use their mobile phone and broadband provider for service. Even this coverage is spotty in many places in Sussex County and often leads to hundreds of dollars each month in overage charges due to the amount of data that has to be used in order to complete assignments.”

Mr. Denn, who is ultimately in favor of a plan the Department of Justice pitched to JFC in December, said Sen. Pettyjohn’s request would not violate terms of the settlement if it was used in low-income areas.

He declined to elaborate on whether it might not be consistent with the agreement if it is not used primarily in low-income locations.

The Delaware Community Reinvestment Action Council sued the state in December over the allocation of settlement funds to help balance the budget last year.

JFC is set to more fully discuss the settlement funds next week.

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