South Plains leaders work toward broadband expansion which is now a legislative emergency item

Updated: Feb. 15, 2021 at 7:13 PM CST
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LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - Access to broadband internet in every part of Texas may be a greater and quicker reality after Governor Greg Abbott’s decision to make it an emergency item this legislative session. With much of the South Plains among the parts of Texas struggling for access, local leaders are among those working toward connecting all Texans.

“We figured it would be one of his emergency priorities but coming out number one, we didn’t think that,” Floyd County Judge and member of the Governor’s Broadband Development Council Marty Lucke said. “I think between the pandemic and the education issues that have come up, I think that’s what pushed it up to the top. We need to do everything we can, of course, to keep our Texas schools up. But we found out, this is not just a rural problem. A lot of urban areas have the same problem as we do in the rural areas.”

Governor Abbott’s announcement in his State of the State Address allows the state legislature to move quickly on items related to broadband expansion.

“From medicine to education to business, broadband access is not a luxury—it is an essential tool that must be available for all Texans,” Governor Abbott said. “That’s why I am making the expansion of broadband access an emergency item this session.”

The Broadband Council’s recommendations in its first report to the governor included establishing a broadband office.

Senator Charles Perry has filed a bill creating that office within the Public Utility Commission and a broadband service investment grant program. Lucke told KCBD these are crucial first steps.

“Once we get this office and get our plan in place, next is going ahead and moving forward with funding,” Lucke said.

Securing federal funding or help from charitable organizations, which Lucke said the council is meeting with, will be needed to build the infrastructure to connect the underserved or unserved residents in Texas.

“It’s going to be extremely expensive, especially in remote areas where we’re looking at,” Lucke said. “You possibly have to build towers to bounce them off, put in actual wire and line that it doesn’t have at this time.”

Lucke said the expedited process of expanding internet access is welcome, especially as we deal with unprecedented events forcing many people to turn to the internet for vital services.

“It’s a big train,” Lucke said. “It’s gonna take it a while to get rolling but once it gets rolling, it’ll have a full head of speed.”

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