In his biennial address to outline priorities for the Legislative Session on Monday, Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced that increasing access to broadband services would be an Emergency Item. Broadband – which the Governor noted is no longer a luxury, but an essential tool – is one of five Emergency Items that will be eligible for the Legislature’s consideration within the first sixty days of the 87th Legislative Session.
“Over the last several months our offices have been working with stakeholders, from internet service providers to non-profit organizations, to identify the most efficient and effective path to expand access to broadband in Texas,” said Ashby. “Now, the Governor has given the Legislature the ‘green-light’ to get working on this critical issue, and I look forward to working with leadership to expand access and encourage adoption of broadband service to all hard-working Texans.”
In recognition of this need across the state, Senator Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville) and Representative Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin) last week filed Senate Bill 506 and House Bill 1446.
The two bills, identical versions of one another, aim to expand access to critical broadband services by: forming a state broadband office, creating a comprehensive state broadband plan, identifying which areas of the state have the greatest need, and funding projects to increase access and adoption in those areas.
“As we’ve seen throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, access to the internet is absolutely essential to the citizens of our already thriving state,” said Nichols. “Our massive, diverse economy has already propelled Texas as the top state for business over the last sixteen years, and bridging the digital divide with expanded access to broadband in rural areas will increase opportunities for high-quality healthcare, educational attainment, and economic development opportunities.”
Since first being elected in 2014, Governor Abbott has given four States of the State. Nearly every item the Governor has prioritized for the Legislature has gone on to receive his signature, including: increased border security funding, reformation of Child Protective Services, and last session’s historic overhaul of the system that funds public schools in Texas.
Aside from increasing access to broadband, other Emergency Items for the current session include: ensuring that no cities defund the police, fixing the flawed bail system to keep dangerous criminals off the streets, restoring trust and confidence in our elections, and protecting Texas businesses who operated during the pandemic from frivolous lawsuits.
Nichols was first elected to the Texas Senate in 2007 and represents 18 counties across East Texas and part of Montgomery County. Ashby is in his fifth term as a member of the Texas House of Representatives, and currently represents Angelina, Houston, Leon, Madison, San Augustine, and Trinity Counties.