Comptroller Announces Changes to Broadband Development Program
Changes to the program will allow for more areas to receive grants and will also broaden requirements for Internet speed and latency.
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. Among notable changes, the Texas Broadband 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,” Hegar, who serves as chairman of the board of advisers for the agency’s Broadband Development Office (BDO), said in a press release. “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,” he 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, 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 multiround competitive grant process, with the first round of funds totaling $120 million. The new legislation will not impact this round of funding.
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