Last week, President Biden signed into law the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA), a $1.9 trillion federal stimulus package. Those funds include a significant amount that Texas can leverage to address critical issues like digital connectivity. For example:
- Broadband Infrastructure is an authorized use for Coronavirus State and Local Recovery Funds. It’s estimated that the state of Texas is estimated to receive around $16.7 billion, with local governments receiving an additional $10.4 billion.
- Online learning is an eligible use for $12.4 billion available to Texas in The Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund.
- Remote activities is an authorized use for the Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund. The fund isto carry out “critical capital projects directly enabling work, education, and health monitoring, including remote options, in response to the public health emergency. The State of Texas is estimated to receive around $480 million.
- The relief package also includes over $7 billion for the national E-rate program which allows schools and libraries nationwide to connect students, teachers, and communities. Texas received nearly $230 million from the federal E-rate program in 2019, and ARPA would provide additional funds for off-campus broadband connections.
As Ellen Ray and A.J. Rodriguez noted in their recent op-ed on the economic benefits of broadband expansion
“Nearly 1 million Texans do not have access to broadband. And 8 million Texans who do have access don’t subscribe to broadband service, many due to affordability. Overall, we are 35th in the nation for the percentage of households subscribing to broadband. At the onset of the pandemic, 3.1 million Texas students did not have broadband access or an adequate learning device. While the pandemic spurred new initiatives to close this gap, 2.5 million students still lack in-home broadband sufficient for learning.”
With Governor Abbott’s endorsement of expanding broadband access as an emergency item, and several important broadband bills before the legislature this session, Texas has the opportunity to make significant progress in closing the digital divide and preparing all Texans for success in the modern economy. ARPA includes resources that Texas can access to help defray the costs of doing so.