2023 Year in Review: The top stories in broadband internet
For high-speed internet expansion in Texas, 2023 was a remarkable year that culminated in the kind of generational investments in digital connectivity that could impact the lives of Texans for decades to come. Between the passage of House Bill 9, creating the Broadband Infrastructure Fund, and voter approval of Proposition 8, broadband had an exceptionally successful year.
Here are seven articles that recap the year:
1. Texas lawmakers seek to close digital divide
The Texas House State Affairs Committee met to discuss HB 9, creating the Broadband Infrastructure Fund. By assigning the legislation a low bill number, House Speaker Dade Phelan signaled the bill was a priority. Legislators not only agreed that rural Texans are greatly impacted by the digital divide in Texas but officials understood that affordability remains an important contributor to the existing divide, even where broadband infrastructure already exists.
2. Texas receives largest federal award of any state to help close the digital divide
The National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Program funding for states across the country. Texas received $3.3 billion, more than any other state. Money for the BEAD program, included in the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, provides over $42.5 billion to expand high-speed internet across the nation. The hope of legislators is that the $3.3 billion in federal dollars will be combined with state dollars to deploy broadband to unserved and underserved areas across the state.
3. Disagreements over state broadband coverage maps
With $1.5 billion in state dollars and billions more in federal funding on the line, concerned residents, local officials and internet service providers expressed concern that state and federal broadband service maps misreport broadband coverage across the state. Because the maps will guide decisions on where to deploy needed broadband dollars, stakeholders have an interest in ensuring the maps accurately reflect both the speed and availability of broadband service across the state.
4. Can America’s middle class afford high-speed internet?
The BEAD program requires that all networks built with program dollars offer broadband to middle-class families at affordable prices. The program tasked states with determining exactly how to achieve that outcome, given wide variability in what is considered affordable across different states and regions of the United States. The Federal Communications Commission determined that affordable broadband should amount to no more than 2% of a family’s monthly household income. Using this benchmark, Pew determined that middle class broadband across the United States would range anywhere from $84.79 in the South to $107.64 in the Northeast.
5. Digital Deserts in Dallas
With 62 Dallas neighborhoods identified as infrastructure deserts and an estimated 76,000 low-income families not subscribed to low-cost internet, Dallas faces an uphill battle to close the city and county’s digital divide. To bring its unserved communities online, Dallas has taken measures to make Wi-Fi available in city parks and recreation centers free of charge. Yet hurdles remain in both device and internet access. Nearly a third of families in the city lacked internet access needed for virtual learning during the pandemic. Nearly a quarter of families whose income falls below $50,000 a year don’t own a computer.
6. “Life, liberty and 25-megabits-per-second download availability”
Seven million Texans lack a reliable, affordable internet connection. With so many Texans, particularly in rural areas of the state, lacking access to minimum download and upload internet speeds of 100/25 Mbps, groups like the Texas Farm Bureau strongly supported Proposition 8. This constitutional amendment created the $1.5 billion Broadband Infrastructure Fund to finance broadband expansion across the state.
7. Texans say yes to water and $1.5B state investment in broadband expansion
With 70% of Texans voting yes on Proposition 8 in the November constitutional amendment election, unserved and underserved communities, particularly in rural areas across the state, could see their neighborhoods brought online in the coming years with infrastructure projects funded by federal and state dollars. And thanks to the constitutionally-dedicated broadband fund this amendment creates, state dollars may be available to help draw down the $3.3 billion in federal BEAD dollars that were awarded to the state in June.