Last week, Texans voted to pass Proposition 8, which amends the state constitution to create a Broadband Infrastructure Fund that will fund broadband and telecommunications projects. It wasn’t a close vote. According to The New York Times.69% – more than 1.7 million Texans – voted for the constitutional amendment.
The vote in Texas reflects a growing movement in the U.S. to expand high-speed Internet access, even in areas where it has been difficult to access. For example, there is a $42.5 billion national program funded by the Biden administration’s 2021 Infrastructure Act that aims to close the so-called digital divide, ultimately ensuring that everyone in the U.S. has access to faster, more affordable connections. However, the path to this future is not entirely clear. AND New York Times article in September indicated that deploying broadband infrastructure in rural areas is costly due to remote homes and terrain challenges, as well as labor shortages.
The Covid-19 pandemic has shed light on how important broadband connections are today. As the pandemic forced people to stay at home, everyday responsibilities and work became even more difficult for people without a strong relationship.
“The tragic global pandemic has highlighted the consequences of being disconnected from the internet,” said Angela Siefer, the company’s executive director National Alliance for Digital Inclusiona non-profit organization that advocates for national broadband access.
Siefer points out that completing even simple tasks without Internet access is almost impossible.
“Going online used to be a choice,” she said. “Now, if someone doesn’t have access to the internet and isn’t using it, they either can’t do the necessary tasks or someone will take care of those tasks online for them. Try calling a government agency or corporation for customer service instead of using their online services. “We will have to put in a lot of time and patience.”
What will the Texas amendment change?
The goal of the new fund is to increase the availability of broadband and telecommunications services for Texans.
“Access to high-speed Internet is now essential for employment, health care, education and government, but it is not equally available across Texas, especially in rural areas” – Kayla Nixon of League of Women Voters of Texassaid v video released before the elections.
The proposal would create a $5 billion fund to expand high-speed Internet across the vast state, which has approximately population 30 millionsecond only to California. The fund is funded by appropriations from the state legislature, donations, grants and investment earnings. The money, along with funding from the government’s Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program, will provide grants and other support to invest in high-speed internet projects.
The amendment enters into force on January 1, and the constitutional provision allowing the creation of the fund will expire in 2035, unless it is extended by then.
Broadband expansion in other states
But tell me you’re not a Texan. The state is not alone in its support for broadband development.
In November 2021, President Joe Biden signed a massive agreement $1.2 trillion infrastructure bill which includes initiatives focusing on broadband.
And most recently, all 50 states, the District of Columbia and five U.S. territories allocated financial resources from the $42.45 billion Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment program resulting from this bill.
It’s quite easy to search for your own state or territory and see what’s going on in terms of broadband development. Official government website, Internet for All.govallows users to select the area in which they live and view funding allocations, grant program highlights, local and federal contact information, and other grants and funds awarded within the state.
Individual states have their own websites where they outline their plans for the money. Minnesota has, for example online form encouraging you to comment on the topic until December 12 preliminary proposals of the state. Ohio side explains why expanded broadband access matters and shares a state calendar showing what has happened so far.
Need a one-stop shop to check your status, or even more than one? The federal government’s Broadband USA website provides such information collected links to initial proposals, five-year plans and digital capital plans for many states and territories.
Federal broadband projects
How is this $42 billion divided? At a minimum, territories will receive $27 million and states will receive $107 million, up to a maximum of $3.3 billion.
It’s a lot of money, but there are a lot of people who need help. In June, the Biden administration reported that 8.5 million households and small businesses were located in areas without access to high-speed internet.
In August, the U.S. Department of Agriculture announced that more than $667 million in grants and loans would be awarded to 22 states and the Marshall Islands to provide high-speed internet to rural residents and businesses. This, too, is an initiative funded by the massive infrastructure bill under the ReConnect program, which aims to expand rural broadband.
ReConnect projects must offer 100 megabits per second download speeds and 20 Mbps upload speeds and must apply for the Affordable Connectivity Program, which provides qualifying low-income homes with a discount on internet service.
NDIA’s Angela Siefer praises ACP, a $30-a-month broadband subsidy for eligible households. However, this program may end as early as next year. The Pew Charitable Trusts informs that ACP funds will run out by spring 2024 unless Congress decides to extend them.
“If Congress doesn’t act, more than 21 million households will lose this subsidy,” Siefer said. “We can’t go back to kids doing homework in parking lots.”
Other goals in this massive federal plan include $2.75 billion for digital equity and inclusion efforts, $2 billion for Indigenous governments and organizations, and an additional $2 billion in grants and loans to build internet infrastructure in rural areas.
Choosing a broadband service
But even if you already live or work in an area where many broadband service options are available, the choice can be confusing and difficult. CNET’s experts have prepared a cheat sheet with everything from detailed analyzes of undersea broadband cables to the latest study on internet service providers’ download speeds.
For more information about broadband services, you’ll find CNET’s list of the best high-speed internet providers of 2023, the best internet providers for streaming and the best low-cost internet providers, as well as a guide to switching broadband providers.