The recently released map of Texans' access to high-speed internet is a new flashpoint in the race for state Agriculture Commissioner. At issue is the nonprofit behind it, Connected Nation, which received $3 million in federal money for the project under current commissioner Todd Staples' auspices.
Staples' Democratic opponent, Hank Gilbert, issued a release today attacking the Kentucky-based nonprofit's links to the telecom industry. Pointing to Staples' financial holdings in telecom companies, he asked why the Department of Agriculture commissioned the project from an out-of-state company when it could have "conducted this project itself or had one of our state universities spearhead it." Gilbert also says Connected Nation has been criticized for providing questionable statistics to the U.S. Senate Commerce Committee to exaggerate its role in expanding broadband connectivity in Kentucky.
The $3 million is part of federal government program that awards grants to businesses and local governments for projects that expand access to broadband. It has already doled out more that $200 million for projects in Texas.
In response to Gilbert’s criticism, Staples’ campaign points to a website it has published detailing alleged ethical problems in Gilbert's past: “Our opponent has a criminal conviction for theft, unpaid taxes, current tax liens, and allegedly accepted a bribe for $150,000,” said campaign manager Cody McGregor. “We hope all Texans will use the internet to view www.guiltyguiltygilbert.com and get the facts about our opponent and his campaign’s trouble with telling the truth.”