September 15, 2020 - Last week, Senator Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville) co-authored a letter with Representative Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin) to Governor Abbott outlining the need for a statewide broadband plan. Almost 90 legislators from both sides of the aisle signed on to the letter that highlighted the lack of broadband access in rural areas of the state.
“Broadband accessibility is one of the biggest obstacles East Texans face and have faced for years,” Senator Nichols said. “Now, during the coronavirus pandemic, it has become even more essential that the state takes proactive steps toward developing this critical infrastructure.”
Forty-four states and Puerto Rice have developed statewide broadband plans, giving Texas various examples of what a plan might look like and essential points to include. The letter highlighted several key elements in other states’ plans, including establishing clear goals and objectives, identifying potential policy barriers, creating regional approaches, encouraging collaboration between various entities, evaluating existing assets, and assessing current and future demand for broadband access.
“Texas’ lack of a statewide broadband plan leaves rural communities at a disadvantage,” said State Representative Trent Ashby. “Many rural Texans do not have adequate broadband infrastructure, limiting their access to telework and other essential services, such as remote learning and telemedicine. At a time when remote work and learning are becoming more prevalent due to the coronavirus pandemic, high-speed internet access has never been more important,” Ashby added.
Additionally, certain federal funding programs award more priority points for states with a broadband plan when considering applications. Without one, Texas providers start out at a disadvantage.
“Funding applications submitted by Texas broadband providers start out at a point deficit in competitive processes because we do not have a state broadband plan,” the letter reads. “Texas is leaving federal funds on the table that could help bridge the digital divide in our state.”
The letter builds on steps Senator Nichols took last session with the passage of SB 14, a bill that allowed electric co-ops to use their existing easement to deploy high-speed broadband.
“The idea with SB 14 was to lower barriers to providing broadband in rural areas where cooperatives already have easements for electric service and where they can already place the necessary fiber,” Senator Nichols said. “I believe it's time for the Legislature to take action to bridge the gap and figure out a way deliver on the broadband access that all Texans deserve.”