Texas eyes creation of $5B Broadband Infrastructure Fund

New legislation introduced this week in the Texas House of Representatives could give voters in the state a chance to decide whether or not to throw $5 billion behind efforts to improve broadband there.

The bill, known as H.B. 9, calls for the creation of a state Broadband Infrastructure Fund and would give the Texas comptroller and Public Utility Commission power to allocate the money for specific uses. Among other things, officials would be allowed to use the money to fuel broadband mapping efforts, update the state’s broadband plan, expand community outreach efforts, bolster the state’s pole replacement fund, provide matching funds for federal money provided by the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment (BEAD) Program, or administer its own loan and grant program.

ACA Connects has projected that Texas stands to receive as much as $3.6 billion in funding from the BEAD Program based on its calculation that the state has approximately 398,700 unserved locations and 361,000 underserved locations which would be eligible for support.

All of those uses might sound like a lot for one funding pot to cover, but there would be plenty of money to go around. The bill aims to use $5 billion from Texas’ Economic Stability Fund to create the Broadband Infrastructure Fund.

Established via a constitutional amendment passed in 1988, the Economic Stability Fund is funded by a portion of Texas’ oil and natural gas production tax revenues, interest earned on the fund balance, investments, appropriations made by the state government and half of any general revenue from the state which has not been allocated at the end of each two-year budget period. According to a report from the Texas Comptroller, the state closed fiscal 2022 (which ended on August 31, 2022) with a $10.7 billion balance in the Economic Stability Fund.

Interestingly, H.B. 9 is dependent on the passage of a constitutional amendment. That means that even if it is approved by the legislature, it won’t take effect unless voters approve H.J.R. 125 during an upcoming election on November 7, 2023. If both of those things happen, though, H.B. 9 will become law of the land on January 1, 2024.

For what it’s worth, Texas’ Speaker of the House Dade Phelan has backed the bill as a legislative priority for 2023.