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Texas Legislature Poised For Biggest Broadband Push In State History But Still Catching Up

Published by Texas Public Radio on May 17, 2019

By Paul Flahive

1.8 million Texans lack broadband Internet access, and most of them live in rural Texas. Studies from the U.S. chamber and others have shown the massive impact connecting Texas could have. This is part one of a multi-part series focusing on Connecting Rural Texas.

Unlike cities, rural areas rarely have public right of ways. So today a rural electric cooperative trying to provide broadband has to go back to each property owner where the co-op already owns poles strung with electrical cabling to ask if they can string broadband fiber-optic cable.

The process is costly and time consuming. In rural Texas, large swaths of the land are ranches. Those ranches become large gaps in deploying fiber, and owners Austin State Capitol Ryan Poppe 300x225can be hard to find.

“They don’t even live here. They live in Washington State or Utah or wherever, said Bill Hetherington, CEO of Bandera Electric Cooperative.

"They don’t have any interest in signing over rights for me to cross their property to provide service to the people who live here,” he said.

But a bill that passed Tuesday and is heading to the governor’s desk would change that. It allows co-ops to announce their intent to deliver broadband and hang fiber cable, giving hard-to-reach property owners 60 days to opt-out.

“This is the snowbird solution,” said Hetherington

Senate Bill 14 is the first bill Texas’ passed on rural broadband internet in more than a decade and one of a handful of similar legislation moving towards confirmation. If they pass, it will be the most broadband bills in Texas history. But they have to pass in the next two weeks. The remaining four have all made it through at least one chamber of the legislature.

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