Broadband could expand across the state as House Bill 9 makes its way through legislature

If passed the bill would create the Texas Broadband Infrastructure Fund which would invest $5 billion for broadband development.
KBTX News 3 at Six Weekday EXTENDED(Recurring)
Published: May. 23, 2023 at 6:07 PM CDT
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BRYAN, Texas (KBTX) - House Bill 9 is making its way through the Texas legislature and could be the biggest state investment in broadband development to date.

The bill was filed by Republican state Rep. Trent Ashby of Lufkin. If passed, the bill would create the Texas Broadband Infrastructure Fund which would invest $5 billion for broadband development. That money would be administered by the Texas comptroller’s office. House Joint Resolution 125 accompanies the bill, which proposes a constitutional amendment that would ask Texas voters to approve the amount and create the fund.

Expanding broadband is an issue that Brazos County has discussed for some time, but there has been difficulty finding a solution.

“It’s the cost to be able to deliver high-quality internet, broadband into more remote parts of the county,” Brazos County Commissioner Steve Aldrich said. “It just costs a lot to get the transmission lines, maintaining it and having it available.”

If approved, the bill could be the key to bringing high-speed internet to the underserved parts of the county and the Brazos Valley.

“My hope is this Texas fund that is coming out, there will be some clarification about how it can be spent and how we may be able to use it to increase broadband service out in the county,” Brazos County Judge Duane Peters said.

Last year there was discussion about funds from the American Rescue Plan Act covering Broadband costs, but Commissioners decided to wait and see if the state would provide funding.

“What we’ve began to run into with the ARPA funding and broadband is that you couldn’t spend money where it was already covered by other federal grants,” Peters said.

Aldrich said for the past three months the county has reviewed the parts of Brazos County that struggle with broadband access.

“It’s probably less than 25%, if I remember correctly, that don’t have access to speeds that are up in the 100 gig area and that is the speed you want to deliver,” Aldrich said. “I think inside more densely populated areas you’ve seen Frontier, you’ve seen Optimum, you’ve seen a lot of people engaged in creating that network. The question is how do we get it out to the more remote areas?”

House Bill 9 will head back to the House, then may go to the governor’s office for final approval.

“If the money becomes available and there is a way to use it to get broadband better in the county then that’s what we will do,” Peters said. ”That has been a goal of the Commissioner’s Court.”

If the bill doesn’t pass or Brazos County doesn’t qualify, Aldrich said the county would look into other solutions.

“It would be somewhat of a tragedy with the excess of revenue that the state of Texas has for them not to fund what needs to be funded for the future development of Brazos County. It’s economic development for the entire state,” said Aldrich.