Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
June 14, 2023
(AUSTIN) —Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar applauded the signing of crucial legislation giving his office greater flexibility and resources as he works to expand access to reliable high-speed internet throughout Texas. Additionally, Hegar announced today his agency is making changes to the Texas Broadband Development program, which are directly related to the signing of these bills, to enhance broadband access, advance digital opportunities and better address the digital divide in Texas.
These changes, required by the recent passage of Senate Bill 1238, will greatly expand the areas eligible to receive broadband infrastructure grants and will provide much needed flexibility to ensure taxpayer dollars will benefit more Texans.
The bipartisan legislation was approved by the 88th Legislature and signed by Gov. Greg Abbott on June 2. Among notable changes, the Texas Broadband Development Map will display broadband serviceable locations (addresses) as served, unserved or underserved based on updated statutory definitions. It also will allow the Comptroller's office to consider the issue of latency, which can dramatically impact the quality of service in an area.
These changes will allow the program to target all unserved and underserved locations, not just certain areas, throughout the state. Also included in the legislation is a fiber preference that will prioritize fiber technology while still allowing the deployment of other technologies in appropriate circumstances.
Earlier this year, the Comptroller accepted challenges from internet providers and political subdivisions to reclassify designated areas of the map as eligible or ineligible for funding. However, the newly passed legislation necessitates a reformatted map, which will address many of the key issues raised by the challenges.
“The challenges to the Texas map and public comments were crucial as we advised legislators on crafting the details of this new legislation," said Hegar, who serves as chairman of the board of advisers for the agency’s Broadband Development Office (BDO). "Our partners at the local level have been able to share critical information through the challenge process that will ensure this unprecedented amount of funding will be used efficiently and effectively.
“We knew almost immediately that our initial map needed to change to meet the needs of our state, but in some cases we also understood that our legal authority was too rigid to make the changes needed," Hegar said. "The challenge process was created to address concerns about the map, but it really had a much greater impact as evidenced by this new law. We are dealing with technology that is evolving rapidly, and we needed a legal framework that gives Texas and my office the flexibility to evolve along with that technology. I think we have that now, and I am grateful to lawmakers and the Governor for getting this passed and signed.”
Through the BDO, the state of Texas has been allocated $363.8 million of its $500.5 million allocation from the federal Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund to carry out critical infrastructure projects related to expanding access to high-speed internet. The BDO will distribute funds allocated to Texas through a multi-round competitive grant process, with the first round of funds totaling $120 million. The new legislation will not impact this round of funding.
In November, voters will be asked to approve a state constitutional amendment to create the Broadband Infrastructure Fund, which would be administered by Hegar’s office. House Bill 9, passed by the 88th Legislature and signed into law on June 9, would allocate $1.5 billion to that fund. In addition, Texas is anticipating billions more coming from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act to further invest in the connectivity needs of the state.
In April, the BDO began seeking public input on internet accessibility, affordability and usage through the Digital Opportunity Public Survey. The BDO will use the survey responses to develop a Texas Digital Opportunity Plan, which is required to draw down federal funding for connecting Texans to reliable, high-speed internet.
Go to the Comptroller’s website to learn more about the BDO.