Lawmakers take key steps to bridge the digital divide

Broadband internet holds the promise to more closely knit rural Texas and historically underserved pockets of our urban centers into the fabric of the state’s booming, high-tech economy.

The state Legislature is taking important steps now to bridge that digital divide, investing a significant portion of the state’s historic revenue balance and maximizing federal funding to achieve that goal. The Texas House debated and gave preliminary approval today to House Bill 9 and adopted House Joint Resolution 125 to establish the Texas Broadband Infrastructure Fund.

Under a new federal program, Texas finds itself well positioned to draw down what may be billions of dollars in federal funding by leveraging the maximum in federal dollars available to the state for broadband expansion.

And clearly, Texans back this idea: 88% of Texas voters said that it was important for the Legislature to maximize its drawdown of federal broadband funds, with 64% saying it is “extremely” or “very” important in this February’s Texas Voter Poll.

However, the state must organize for success to maximize this potential.

Almost three million Texas households still lack access to broadband, while five million more struggle with unreliable connections. This is an issue that touches on Texans living in every region of the state, as seen in the state’s broadband access map.

Administered by the State Comptroller’s office, the new broadband infrastructure fund would support the efforts of the Texas Broadband Development Office to expand internet availability in the state and could be the biggest state investment in broadband development to date.

A bipartisan effort

The author, state Rep. Trent Ashby, R-Lufkin, and joint authors, state Reps. Todd Hunter, R-Corpus Christi, Ana Hernandez, D-Houston, Greg Bonnen, R-Friendswood, and Oscar Longoria, D-Mission, have been joined by 114 co-authors in the House.

This demonstrates the widespread bipartisan support for this once-in-a-generation opportunity to invest a significant portion of the state’s historic revenue balance toward ensuring all Texans have access to this important resource.

Without ready access to broadband internet, Texans are at a disadvantage in seeking employment opportunities, utilizing virtual education and accessing healthcare services. Ensuring all Texans possess the technology and know-how necessary to fully participate in the 21st century digital economy is an absolute necessity.

Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar stressed earlier this month that the state needs to take the opportunity to invest in the expansion of broadband connectivity.

“Access to reliable, high-speed internet as a means of advancing education, training, employment opportunities, health care and delivery of essential services is critical to the future of our state,” Hegar said.

Let’s not miss this opportunity to bring broadband internet to every corner of our great state. By investing in broadband infrastructure, we can bridge the digital divide and ensure that every Texan has the tools they need to succeed in the 21st century economy. With this once-in-a-generation opportunity, let’s build a brighter future for all Texans.

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