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Texas closer to expanding internet access after Senate approves plan

The lawmakers voted unanimously Wednesday to support Senate Bill 5.

Texas families lacking broadband services are closer to a connection after the Senate voted unanimously Wednesday in favor of a bill tackling the digital divide.

The legislation would establish a broadband office to oversee improvements to internet access, detail which areas lack connections, establish a program to distribute grants and financial incentives for improved access, and create a statewide plan with long-term goals.

Texas is one of just six states that doesn’t have a statewide plan guiding broadband expansion efforts and one of a small group that doesn’t have an office spearheading the charge.

Roughly 1 million residents don’t have home access to broadband, a state report found last summer. Even more residents don’t subscribe to internet plans because of barriers such as affordability, according to census data.

Senate Bill 5 would allow Texas to efficiently use federal and philanthropic dollars designated for expanded broadband access. In the past, Texas wasn’t prepared to use federal funding appropriately, said Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville, who wrote the legislation.

Senators lauded the bill Wednesday afternoon, saying it was necessary for both rural communities that lack infrastructure and urban communities that struggle with affordability.

“Anybody and everybody in the state of Texas that desires to have broadband availability that’s reliable and affordable, hopefully, should have that if we meet our objective,” said Sen. Charles Perry, R-Lubbock.

The legislation now heads to the Texas House, where a similar proposal has already received committee support but hasn’t been considered by all representatives yet. Gov. Greg Abbott named expanding broadband a priority item at the beginning of the legislative session and has since emphasized that broadband access is no longer a luxury.

Schools shifted instruction online about a year ago as the pandemic forced millions of students to learn remotely. Internet access varied greatly, with some students having stable connections and others having no broadband access at all.

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The DMN Education Lab deepens the coverage and conversation about urgent education issues critical to the future of North Texas.

The DMN Education Lab is a community-funded journalism initiative, with support from The Beck Group, Bobby and Lottye Lyle, The Communities Foundation of Texas, The Dallas Foundation, Dallas Regional Chamber, Deedie Rose, The Meadows Foundation, Solutions Journalism Network, Southern Methodist University and Todd A. Williams Family Foundation. The Dallas Morning News retains full editorial control of the Education Lab’s journalism.

Emily Donaldson, staff writer. Emily is an education reporter for Education Lab at The Dallas Morning News.

emily.donaldson@dallasnews.com emilyjdonaldson
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