BEAD Initial Proposal released as Prop 8 vote draws near

With Texans slated to go to the polls next week to decide on the establishment of a $1.5 billion Broadband Infrastructure Fund, the state’s Broadband Development Office has released an initial outline on how exactly it intends to meet federal requirements for future expansion of access to high-speed internet service and qualify for the federal funds allocated for the effort.

Today, the BDO released a draft of its Initial Proposal, Volume I and Volume II for the federal Broadband, Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) program. Texans are invited to provide public comment on the draft until Dec. 4 before the state submits a final draft to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration at the end of December.

As we earlier reported, Texas was allocated $3.3 billion by the federal government to help close the digital divide in the state. This Initial Proposal released today is Texas’ plan to efficiently use the allocated funds to help connect the remaining unserved and underserved communities in Texas.

Importantly, in order to draw down those funds, the state or its subgrantees must match federal dollars received on a 1:4 basis. However, there will be no state funding available to meet this required BEAD match without voter approval of Proposition 8, the constitutional amendment creating the BIF.

What the Legislature did

The 88th Legislature passed House Bill 9, the legislation creating the BIF, this spring. The fund would assist in the financing of broadband connectivity projects, with one allowed use providing state dollars for the 25% match required by BEAD. Creation of the BIF, and the $1.5 billion that the state has set aside to fund it, depends on voter approval Nov. 7.

Failure to pass Proposition 8 on Tuesday would complicate the state’s plan to bring last-mile connectivity to the communities in Texas that still don’t have access to a reliable, high-speed internet connection.

In its current form, the BDO’s Initial BEAD proposal anticipates having access to the funds through passage of Proposition 8. The proposal both acknowledges that federal BEAD funds alone will be insufficient to completely close the digital divide in Texas and notes that additional sources of funding from the state, for example, funding from the BIF, could be used to create a State Match program. It is clear from the proposal that the state intends to use funding from the BIF to help supplement and accelerate the BEAD program.

But the interplay of these two funding sources has yet to be fully determined, as Texas awaits approval from voters of its ambition to fully fund broadband.

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