Texas is poised to make a great leap forward toward bridging the digital divide. With the passage of House Bill 5 during the regular session of the Texas Legislature this spring, the state will now develop and deploy a statewide broadband plan.
Broadband access was among Gov. Greg Abbott’s emergency items for the Legislature’s regular session. Bills supporting expansion of broadband received broad-based, bipartisan support from lawmakers and from a wide range of advocates, philanthropists and local community leaders, including Digital Texas.
From small businesses to education, healthcare to transportation, farming to Fortune 500, stakeholders across the Lone Star State have long recognized the importance of broadband and the need to improve access and adoption. Over 9 million Texans still do not have broadband at home, severely affecting their lives and livelihoods.
Connectivity is critical to our everyday lives. The global pandemic spotlighted the importance of reliable broadband access, determining whether people could work from home, connect with family and friends, access health care, attend school and take advantage of other essential services. But reliable broadband is not a given, especially in rural and other underserved communities across Texas.
Far too many Texans lack broadband access to the information and infrastructure necessary to participate fully in the digital era.
Take education as one critical example. The Texas Tribune reported that, going into the pandemic, 30% of Texas public school students had access to adequate technology for online learning. The learning slide from COVID-19 is evident now, too. While this year’s STAAR test was optional in public schools, the results point to dramatic drops in reading and math for Texas students.
It’s rare to find bipartisan agreement on much of anything these days, but the issue of broadband access transcended politics — as evidenced in the near unanimous support of a statewide broadband plan and office.
Digital Texas recently honored Texans who were critical to the passage of this landmark legislation for broadband in our state with our Connecting All Texans Broadband Awards. We thank:
- Gov. Greg Abbott
- Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick
- Speaker Dade Phelan
- Rep. Trent Ashby, bill author
- Sen. Robert Nichols, bill author
- Sen. Dawn Buckingham
- Sen. Kelly Hancock
- Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa
- Sen. Jane Nelson
- Sen. Charles Perry
- Sen. Royce West
- Rep. Charles “Doc” Anderson
- Rep. Greg Bonnen
- Rep. Brad Buckley
- Rep. Terry Canales
- Rep. Ana Hernandez
- Rep. Christina Morales
- Rep. Chris Paddie
- Rep. Four Price
- Rep. Toni Rose
- Mr. Judd Messer, Office of Rep. Trent Ashby
- Mrs. Tina O’Jibway, Office of Sen. Robert Nichols
These leaders played a pivotal role in the fast-tracking, development and passage of House Bill 5.
“The new law means Texas will develop a fact-based, statewide broadband plan to drive improved connectivity and digital inclusion. Texans in underserved communities will benefit tremendously as broadband access begins to reach their work, schools, healthcare, homes, and families.”
Texas Rural Funders, a founder of the Digital Texas coalition, will host in-person and virtual events across Texas in the coming months to discuss the development, implementation and impact of the state’s new broadband office and plan on rural communities. Texas Rural Funders stands ready to support the state in this critical endeavor. Its success matters to every Texan.
Now let’s roll up our sleeves and get to work.
Together with Greater Houston Partnership and Texas 2036, Texas Rural Funders founded Digital Texas, focusing on equitable access to broadband.