(AUSTIN) — Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar today released his agency’s Texas Broadband Plan to support the expansion of broadband access for underserved and unserved Texans. The Comptroller’s Broadband Development Office (BDO) crafted the plan building upon the feedback that Hegar and BDO staff collected from Texans through 12 public town halls, 60 virtual regional roundtable discussions and more than 16,000 survey responses.
“We compiled lessons learned from a dozen town hall visits via my Texas Broadband Listening Tour, survey responses, analysis of results and staff recommendations to create this initial Texas Broadband Plan,” Hegar wrote in a letter to Texas lawmakers. “An important, recurring theme has been the reminder that though high-speed internet may once have been a luxury, it is now a necessity. Texans need reliable, high-speed connectivity for a wide range of potential applications including public health, safety, education and modern agriculture.
“We developed this plan to be useful, insightful and sound as a road map for improvement. This is a monumental task, and we must work together to accomplish it. Expanding broadband access will require collaboration and partnerships between local governments and private entities, across counties and among residents.”
U.S. Census Bureau data indicate almost 2.8 million Texas households, including 7 million people, lack broadband access. Twenty-three percent of Texans have limited ability to attend virtual classes, see a health care provider from their living room, fill out a job application online, start a business or access online marketplaces from their kitchen table. This problem disproportionately affects rural communities, communities of color and low-income families.
Gov. Greg Abbott prioritized expanding broadband access as one of five emergency items for the 87th Legislature in his State of the State address on Feb. 1, 2021. The BDO was established shortly afterward to award grants, low-interest loans and other financial incentives to expand access to broadband service across the state.
The Legislature appropriated $5 million to the Comptroller to administer the program. Additionally, the American Rescue Plan Act enacted by the federal government has allocated $500.5 million to Texas for broadband expansion, while the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will allocate at least $100 million. It should be noted that uncertainty remains concerning rules and restrictions governing these federal dollars. Texas and other states will need flexibility from the federal government to best utilize the resources available to bridge the digital divide.
Because potential federal funding and additional state funding are yet to be determined, this initial statewide plan is based on several guiding principles that will create the foundation for those future funds.
The plan will become more defined over time as federal agencies finalize program guidance and funding allocations. In addition, more detail will be added if the Texas Legislature appropriates additional state funding for new programs for broadband expansion. Lastly, as the BDO creates a more granular address-level broadband availability map, those data will help quantify the digital divide in ways that are impossible at the drafting of this initial plan and will allow the BDO to operate with greater precision moving into the future.
Next steps are organized into three areas of focus aimed at maximizing available funding, providing for transparency and accountability, and understanding and overcoming barriers. By early next year, the BDO will:
- Establish a broadband-focused, federally compliant grant program.
- Publish a broadband availability map.
- Manage recurring coordination and communication opportunities across stakeholder groups.
“Texas faces a huge challenge: Connecting over 1 million households to high-speed broadband, improving connectivity for over 5.6 million households, improving affordability of broadband for 3.6 million households and assisting 3.8 million Texans with digital literacy challenges,” Hegar said. “This plan is a foundation upon which the Texas Legislature, the BDO and other stakeholders can build actionable programs.”
For more information about the Texas Broadband Plan, go to BroadbandForTexas.com.