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Connected Nation Texas’ State Program Director testifies before state lawmakers on bill to expand broadband services

State-level broadband best practices identified, shared with state House and Senate members

Austin, Texas (March 24, 2021) – State Senators are considering a bipartisan bill “relating to the expansion of broadband services to certain areas.” Senate Bill 5 was joint-authored by Senators Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville), Kelly Hancock (R-North Richland Hills), Charles Perry (R-Lubbock), and Royce West (D-Dallas).

Members of the State Transportation Committee heard from almost two dozen witnesses on March 17 about the bill and the importance of broadband access. Jennifer Harris, State Program Director, Connected Nation Texas was among those providing expert testimony.

“Our statewide program, re-launched in mid-2019, is funded by the Texas Rural Funders, a coalition of funding organizations that works to bring additional attention and resources to rural Texas,” she explained about the statewide efforts of Connected Nation Texas, the state program of national nonprofit, Connected Nation. “We are engaged in broadband data collection—analysis (which includes public comment and field validation)—and broadband mapping. We are also leading community engagement and broadband planning initiatives in rural communities across the state. We serve as a neutral educational resource on broadband technologies, public policy initiatives, digital inclusion – and general broadband awareness.”

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Jennifer Harris, State Program Director, Connected Nation Texas provides expert testimony on broadband solutions during a Senate hearing

Harris went on to share some of the state-level broadband best practices identified by Connected Nation Texas to accelerate broadband expansion. Those include developing a state broadband plan, creating a dedicated state broadband office, providing state-level funding programs, and improving broadband coverage maps.

“Current FCC broadband data has proven to be so flawed that an overwhelming majority of states either have their own broadband mapping programs or participate in the NTIA’s National Broadband Availability Map,” said Harris. “States that have their own mapping programs have been able to gather and publish more granular data in a timely manner while also being able to verify collected data through on-the-ground verification. Granular, current, and validated data leads to improved research capabilities and overall better planning, program implementation, and targeted, responsible distribution of funds and resources.”

The Senators were given an opportunity to question Harris about the nonprofit’s work. Those questions included a focus on the importance of mapping and data analysis, connecting “the last mile” of infrastructure needs, and funding opportunities.  

“Do you help in the way of small counties maybe not having economic development for financing? Is that something you guys provide,” asked Sen. Perry “I know some foundations have indicated that they’re interested in being part of this work. But is that something you can do, can coordinate, or work with to find those sources?”

“We do work with those local communities to discover what opportunities are there for them,” Harris explained. “Connected Nation does not fund broadband. We don’t fund infrastructure, but we do work with communities to gather data and help them build plans, really think through their goals, and think through their priorities so that when money is available we know what money to look at—whether that’s from the federal government, a public-private partnership, whatever that may be—we just want them to have the best data.” 

You can read Harris’ prepared testimony by clicking here and watch the hearing by clicking here (Harris’ testimony begins at 46 minute).

A similar bill was introduced in the House by State Rep. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin) and joint-authored by Reps. Charles “Doc” Anderson (R-Waco), Terry Canales (D-Edinburg), Chris Paddie (R-Marshall), and Four Price (R-Amarillo).  Harris also provided testimony before the House State Affairs Committee on March 18. House Bill 5 now has nearly 60 additional co-authors—Democrat and Republican—signed on in support of the legislation.