Texas to receive $3.3 billion in federal funds to boost broadband expansion efforts

An aerial view of Groveton on March 20. (Mark Felix For The Texas Tribune, Mark Felix For The Texas Tribune)

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Texas will receive more than $3.3 billion in federal money — the most of any state — to help expand broadband availability statewide, the Biden administration announced Monday.

The money will be distributed from the $42.45 billion in the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program as part of President Joe Biden’s 2021 Bipartisan Infrastructure Law. The funds aim to connect more than 8.5 million households and small businesses nationwide — and nearly 2.8 million of those households without broadband are in Texas. Each state received at least $107 million.

Separately, the BEAD program includes more than $14 billion in funding for the Affordable Connectivity Program, which makes broadband service more affordable for eligible households nationwide (and can be applied for now), $2 billion for the Tribal Broadband Connectivity Program, and $2 billion for the Department of Agriculture’s Reconnect Program that provides loans and grants to build broadband infrastructure in eligible rural areas.

Texas and the other states can submit initial funding proposals from July 1 through Dec. 27. After the National Telecommunications and Information Administration approves proposals, which will occur on a rolling basis, states and territories will be able to access at least 20% of their funds. The Texas Broadband Development Office will allocate the funds, which will go to where the state and federal broadband maps indicate service is needed. However, service providers and local officials have disputed the accuracy of those maps.

The Biden administration has compared its investment in broadband to the 1936 Rural Electrification Act, which offered low-cost loans to help bring electricity to rural areas.

[Texas will spend billions to connect the state with broadband. But is it clear which neighborhoods need help?]

“Whether it’s connecting people to the digital economy, manufacturing fiber optic cable in America, or creating good paying jobs building internet infrastructure in the states, the investments we’re announcing will increase our competitiveness and spur economic growth across the country for years to come,” Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo said in a statement Monday.

The $3.3 billion federal allotment will boost investments made by Texas lawmakers during this year’s legislative session. House Bill 9, filed by State Rep. Trent Ashby, R-Lufkin, allocates $1.5 billion to expand internet availability in the state. Gov. Greg Abbott signed HB 9 into law this month, and Texans will vote on the final approval of the funds in November.

“The Legislature had the forethought to put up $1.5 billion this session toward further broadband deployment and to leverage the full potential of the federal funding set aside for the state,” said A.J. Rodriguez, executive vice president of Texas 2036, a data-based think tank. “This is one of many crucial down payments they made this session. It targets Texas’ rural communities and underserved pockets of our urban areas so that those Texans can fully participate in the 21st century digital economy.”

Ashby said the state has never been in a better position to increase connectivity, with billions of dollars in store to improve broadband and telecommunications infrastructure.

“I’m very pleased the state of Texas stands to receive more federal grant funding for broadband deployment than any other state,” Ashby told the Tribune. “By awarding Texas with over $3.3 billion, the NTIA has reaffirmed our long-standing belief that there is an urgent need to deliver reliable high-speed internet to the people of Texas.”

In a statement released Monday, the Texas Cable Association applauded the funding announcement, saying the investment will play a big role in closing the state’s digital divide.

“We look forward to working with state leaders to ensure unserved and underserved communities are prioritized for connectivity and that strong guardrails are established to protect these investments from wasteful abuse,” the association said in their statement.

According to a statement, the Biden administration expects that all states and territories will now have the resources to connect everyone in the country by 2030.

Disclosure: Texas 2036 and the Texas Cable Association have been financial supporters of The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit, nonpartisan news organization that is funded in part by donations from members, foundations and corporate sponsors. Financial supporters play no role in the Tribune’s journalism. Find a complete list of them here.

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