One more reasonable accomplishment amid the wreckage.
Texas lawmakers took another step Thursday toward expanding internet availability in the state by passing a bill that invests $5 billion for broadband development.
House Bill 9, filed by Republican state Rep. Trent Ashby of Lufkin, would create the Texas Broadband Infrastructure Fund. The money would be administered by the Texas comptroller’s office and would be the biggest state investment in broadband development to date. The bill is accompanied by House Joint Resolution 125, which proposes a constitutional amendment that would ask Texas voters to approve the historic amount and create the fund.
The legislation has cleared both chambers, and two amendments adopted Thursday will send it back to the House for final approval before going to Gov. Greg Abbott’s desk. One amendment, proposed by Sen. Joan Huffman of Houston, said it was a recommendation from the Texas Comptroller’s office as a way to “remove legal burdens allowing for moneys to be allocated without the need for burdensome legal filings for each individual asset.”
Another amendment, proposed by Sen. Robert Nichols of Jacksonville, would direct the state’s broadband office to supplement the non-federal match on a sliding scale based on where it’s necessary to add additional state funds to make a project area economically feasible to serve. Nichols said this would allow the state to amplify the impact of federal funding and ensure providers have skin in the game.
The proposed legislation is an attempt to fill the gaps in broadband availability statewide. Nearly 7 million Texans don’t have reliable internet service. According to the Broadband Development Office’s map, released earlier this year, most urban areas of the state have broadband availability, while most rural areas have slow service or none at all.
This and another bill by Rep. Ashby and Sen. Nichols would build on legislation passed last session, and would add to the money that will come to Texas from the bipartisan infrastructure bill of 2021. The House had not concurred with the Senate amendments as of when I drafted this, but it seems likely all that will be dealt with in short order. Even in terrible sessions there are decent things that get done. It’s just that the bad so outweighs the good. We know what the solution is for that.