Broadband continues to be a leadership priority, as pointed out by Texas House Speaker Dade Phelan (R-Beaumont) and state Sen. Bryan Hughes (R-Minneola) at the Counties at the Capitol Day program last month. Since the interviews, two bills filed are presumed to be the preferred vehicles to address broadband development. House Bill 5 by Rep. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin) and Senate Bill 5 by Sen. Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville) are similar but have one distinct difference – HB 5 would place the Broadband Development Office under the Comptroller of Public Accounts, and SB 5 would place it under the University of Texas System. Designated as an emergency item, the bills are expected to be heard soon in committee.
HB 5 would create the broadband development office (BDO) under the office of the state comptroller to serve as a resource for information regarding broadband, engage in outreach regarding expansion, and serve as a clearinghouse for federal programs offering assistance to local entities. To ensure Texas is best positioned to benefit from broadband programs administered by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), the bill would grant the BDO the authority to monitor, participate and provide comment in proceedings of the FCC related to the geographic availability and deployment of broadband service.
The bill would require the BDO to establish the broadband development program to award grants, low-interest loans, and other financial incentives to applicants for expanding services.
The BDO would be required to develop a broadband development map classifying each designated area as either eligible or ineligible based on 80% of the addresses within the area having access to broadband services. The bill would allow a provider or political subdivision to petition the office to reclassify an area of the map.
Furthermore, the BDO would be required to prepare, update and publish on the comptroller’s website a state broadband plan that establishes long-term goals for greater access.
SB 5 would establish the State Broadband Development Office (SBDO) under the University of Texas System to serve as a resource for information and engage in outreach for broadband services. The bill would establish a board of advisors composed of 11 members appointed by the governor, the lieutenant governor and the speaker of the House – as well as by the boards of regents of the University of Houston, Texas A&M University, Texas Tech University and the University of Texas System.
The SBDO would develop and maintain a broadband development map on the office’s website classifying each designated area by either eligible or ineligible based on 80% of the addresses within the area having access to broadband services. The bill would allow a provider or political subdivision to petition the office to reclassify an area of the map.
Furthermore, the SBDO would prepare, update and publish on the comptroller’s website a state broadband plan that establishes long-term goals for greater access.
For more information about this article, please contact Rick Thompson.