The latest on broadband legislation
With the legislative session now in its final days, here’s an update on the progress of the session’s signature legislation on broadband internet expansion — House Bill 9 and House Joint Resolution 125, both authored by Rep. Trent Ashby, R-Lufkin, and sponsored in the Senate by Sen. Joan Huffman, R-Houston.
Both chambers have given approval to the legislation. The House is expected to act soon on changes made by the Senate. Most notably, the latest versions of the legislation no longer contain references to a $5 billion appropriation. Instead, final funding will now be decided through the appropriations process.
Breaking down the committee substitutes for HB 9 and HJR 125:
CSHB 9 establishes the constitutionally dedicated Broadband Infrastructure Fund (BIF), which would be authorized by CSHJR 125, a constitutional amendment that would go before the voters in the November constitutional election.
As written now, the legislation restricts the use of the BIF to the following purposes:
- The administration of grants through the Broadband Development Office
- Funding 9-1-1 and Next Generation 9-1-1 services under Chapter 771, Health and Safety Code
- Providing matching funds for the federal Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program
- Updating the Texas Broadband Development Map
- Supporting the Texas Broadband Pole Replacement Program
- Expanding broadband access in economically distressed communities
The BIF would be established as a constitutionally dedicated fund outside the General Revenue fund, which would exempt it from constitutional spending limits. Huffman said the fund “will represent a sizable investment by the state, but it will also and very importantly allow the state to pull down billions of additional dollars through the federal BEAD program.”
The BEAD program was authorized by the 2021 Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) and was designed to help expand high-speed internet access across the country with a focus on unserved and underserved areas of the country. It provides matching funds to states’ efforts on a 4:1 basis.
A key to gain access to the new economy
Virtual education, online job opportunities, and remote healthcare appointments, to name a few, are a regular feature of the 21st century digital economy but are outside the reach of the millions of Texas households that lack access to broadband internet service.
State funding to expand broadband infrastructure and help close the digital divide is a welcome investment in the potential of the Texas worker. In particular, funding that allows Texas to leverage the maximum amount in federal BEAD dollars would be ideal.
Texas could receive up to $4 billion in federal matching dollars on a 25% match from the state or subgrantees such as internet service providers. Final funding amounts from the federal government will be released June 30.
In a February poll, Texas 2036 found that 88% of Texas voters support maximizing the state’s drawdown of federal broadband funds, suggesting that voters approve actions by the state toward that goal will be well received.
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