Gov. Greg Abbott included broadband expansion on the list of emergency items during his State of the State Address on Feb. 1. A top priority for counties, broadband expansion has long been an important issue, but has become even more critical due to the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic. The lack of connectivity in rural Texas creates barriers for accessing telepsychiatry and telemedicine, as well as online learning for rural students. These same challenges have appeared in economically disadvantaged urban communities.
Several bills filed thus far during the 87th legislative session seek to establish expansion of broadband services:
HB 1446 by Rep. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin) – Establishes the Broadband Development Office (BDO) within the office of the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts and requires the BDO to create and maintain the Broadband Development Map. The map designates each census block as eligible if at least 80% of the block’s addresses have access to broadband service. If not, the map designates the block ineligible. The map must include the number of broadband service providers that serve each census block based on Federal Communications Commission (FCC). If the information from the FCC is not sufficient, the office may require a political subdivision or broadband service provider to report the information.
HB 1446 also creates the broadband development program under the BDO to award grants, low interest loans and other financial incentives to applicants. The bill also creates the broadband development account, consisting of appropriations by the Legislature, and donations and interest earned on the investment of the money in the account. The money in the account may only be appropriated for purposes of administering the broadband development program or creating and updating the map. See also SB 506 by Sen. Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville).
HB 425 by Rep. Ken King (R-Canadian) – Expands the use of the Universal Service Fund to create and fund rural broadband development projects in underserved areas of Texas.
HB 1511 by Rep. Angie Chen Button (R-Dallas) – Establishes the Connectivity Office within the office of the Governor to collaborate with the Governor’s broadband development council to expand access to high-speed internet services. The office shall publish a broadband development map to display areas that do not have sufficient infrastructure to support high-speed internet service.
SB 154 by Sen. Charles Perry (R- Lubbock) – Establishes the Broadband Office within the Public Utilities Commission to develop and promote proposals for broadband expansion and creates the Broadband Grant Program. The office shall establish the grant program for applicants in underserved areas and must use the established considerations in the bill before making an award.
For more information, email Rick Thompson.