The pandemic clearly showed the need and power of Texans connecting. From connecting millions of students to K-12 teachers; millions of workers connecting to employers from home; businesses, especially small businesses, remaining connected to customers to provide them goods and services; and health care providers visiting the “virtual bedsides” of their patients.
Real-time information, communication and digital connection were critical. And this year, Texas lawmakers from both parties, supported by a statewide coalition of coalitions called Digital Texas, came together and passed legislation that expands and strengthens that virtual network, which will improve the lives and livelihoods of millions of Texans.
House Bill 5 received widespread approval in both the House and the Senate, as well as by Digital Texas, and was sent to the Governor on Monday. This legislation, which had 46 Democratic and 56 Republican co-sponsors in the House, creates a new state broadband office tasked with creating a statewide broadband plan to close the digital divide in Texas. This legislation also requires the state broadband office to establish coverage maps and a grant program that will support the expansion of broadband networks across our state.
The potential impacts of this bill are far-reaching. Students in urban and rural Texas will have greater access to the tools and services they need to excel in school. Employers and job seekers will be better equipped to compete in the digital economy. And all Texans will be able to receive timely and cost-effective healthcare from medical specialists statewide. Broadband expansion will also help improve government performance more generally by helping connect state agencies and facilitate data sharing.
Broadband expansion is an issue that Texas voters overwhelming wanted action on this session. In this year’s Texas Voter Poll, 83% of Texas voters said they wanted the legislature to take action to bring broadband to low-income and rural areas. And HB 5 is something all Texans can be proud of. It will not only improve the lives and livelihoods of countless Texans, it serves as a clear reminder of what we can accomplish when we take a long-term view with a focus on data.
At Texas 2036, we are proud that our work, and that of our partners in Digital Texas, helped facilitate policy decisions through accessible data, long-term planning and statewide engagement, bringing Texans together to support legislation that will have a profound and positive impact on our future.