More Texans than the population of San Antonio lack broadband internet access, according to the Federal Communications Commission. Fifteen million Texans don't use broadband speeds, according to a new Microsoft study. Two bills aimed at closing the digital divide in rural communities could be voted on as early as this week.
They reflect the push at the heart of conservative Texas to regard broadband a public necessity rather than a private luxury.
“It’s kind of like the electrification of the early thirties,” said Rep. Charles “Doc” Anderson, the Waco Republican who authored the two bills.
Both HB 2422 and 2423 aim to coordinate infrastructure and government funding for projects across the state, especially in rural areas.
HB 2422 encourages state transportation and internet providers to install, upgrade and maintain broadband alongside ongoing state highway construction. HB 2423 establishes an office in the Public Utility Commission that would go after federal dollars, assist regional broadband plans and administer project funding.
The Federal Communications Commission announced this month $20 billion in continued rural broadband funding over 10 years.
Rural broadband impacts economic development, education, access to health -- all things that attract residents.
"All those are quality-of-life issues, and many of people would like to age in place, if you would. That is, if they had these type of services they would stay in rural Texas. So it's super important," Anderson said.
A third bill — HB 1960 — already passed and, if instituted, will set up a broadband council within the governor's office.