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Final approval given to bill allocating $1.5 billion to broadband expansion in Texas

By Jayme Lozano Carver, The Texas Tribune

Final approval given to bill allocating $1.5 billion to broadband expansion in Texas” was first published by The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans — and engages with them — about public policy, politics, government and statewide issues.

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Texas lawmakers made the biggest investment for broadband development in state history Sunday with a bill allocating $1.5 billion to an infrastructure fund that is meant to expand internet availability in a state where 7 million people lack access to the service.

The legislation cleared the House and Senate on Sunday and is now headed to Gov. Greg Abbott.

House Bill 9, filed by Rep. Trent Ashby, R-Lufkin, would create the Texas Broadband Infrastructure Fund. The bill is accompanied by House Joint Resolution 125, which proposes a constitutional amendment that would require voter approval to create the fund.

“This represents a historic investment in connectivity infrastructure to meet the technological demands of the future,” Ashby told lawmakers Sunday. “And reaffirms our belief that all Texans deserve access to affordable, reliable high-speed internet.”

The final version of the legislation fell short of what Ashby initially proposed. The original bill would have allocated $5 billion to the fund, but the budget approved by the Legislature pared it to $1.5 billion. That is also significantly less than the amount Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar said the state needed to get fully connected — $10 billion — when he testified at the Capitol earlier this year.

The Broadband Infrastructure Fund will help pay to develop and finance broadband and telecommunications services and 911 services, as well as providing matching funds for federal money from the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program, among other items.

Expanding broadband in Texas has been an ongoing mission since the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted disparities in the state. In the 2021 session, the Legislature established the Broadband Development Office, which released its broadband development map earlier this year. According to the map, most urban areas of the state have broadband available, while most rural areas have slow service or none at all.

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