The global pandemic accelerated the transition to a digital economy. From virtual learning to telehealth to online commerce, broadband internet was no longer a luxury. For over 9 million Texans, though, a lack of access and digital literacy threatened to leave them behind. Recognizing this, the Texas Legislature acted this year by passing House Bill 5 to ensure that all Texans will have access to broadband, and the work to close the digital divide is now underway.
Broadband Development Office
Led by Greg Conte, Texas’ new Broadband Development Office (BDO) opened its doors in September and created an interagency council that will facilitate different state agencies that want to play a role in providing broadband ubiquity, and engaging in local-level broadband events which will help ensure Texas effectively deploys hundreds of millions of dollars in available federal funds with input and support from local governments.
In addition to coordination, the BDO is developing a statewide broadband plan, which is anticipated in June of 2022. Aside from being a best practice for broadband development, such a plan is required to access $500.5 million in existing federal funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and to draw down funding under the new broadband programs established under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA).
One of the biggest challenges to addressing digital access in Texas is ensuring state and federal maps correctly identify areas without broadband. To ensure Texas receives the proper amount of federal funding next year, which will be based on the new Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) maps, the BDO will begin collecting accurate, granular broadband coverage data at the address level and developing Texas’ own maps to ensure the federal maps are accurate. The first Texas maps are expected by January 2023.
The BDO’s mapping program is particularly crucial as it will allow Texas to correct any areas in the FCC maps that overstate broadband coverage and maximize the amount of funding Texas will receive from the IIJA – specifically from the $42.5 billion allocated for infrastructure projects.
During the third called special session, the Legislature appropriated $500.5 million in federal funding made available from ARPA to the BDO for broadband expansion. $75 million of this funding is allocated to the Pole Replacement Program. The remaining funds will be distributed across the state on a competitive grant basis to support local broadband projects.
For too long, Texas lagged other states in broadband connectivity. Today, Texas is preparing to catch up. Texas 2036 was proud to support the Legislature in creating the Broadband Development Office, and we look forward to working with the BDO and stakeholders across the state to carry out the work over the next several months to achieve broadband ubiquity and digital inclusion for all Texans.
This in an update to a post that was originally published on November 29, 2021.