(AUSTIN) — Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar today announced his agency will operate a newly created Broadband Development Office (BDO). The BDO will award grants, low-interest loans and other financial incentives to internet service providers who expand access to broadband service in underserved areas.
“Easy, secure internet access is increasingly important in our society, and it was essential during the pandemic. So, I am grateful that lawmakers made the expansion of broadband access across Texas a priority through the creation of the Broadband Development Office at my agency,” Hegar said.
Greg Conte has been selected to serve as BDO director. He has worked at the Texas Comptroller’s office for five years, most recently serving as manager of the Data Analysis and Transparency Division. Conte, a U.S. military veteran, earned Master of Business Administration and Master of Public Affairs degrees from the University of Texas at Austin. He has filled key management roles at the agency in areas responsible for supporting local government transparency, economic development and health care.
“The COVID pandemic has highlighted the importance of reliable internet access. The linchpin to this office’s success will be building meaningful, open relationships with state and local partners,” Conte said. “I look forward to supporting the office’s mission by fostering and maintaining those connections.”
The office, established by House Bill 5 during the recently gaveled regular session of the 87th Legislature, will also do the following:
create a broadband map indicating areas eligible for financial assistance;
set an effective threshold speed for broadband service in those underserved areas at 25 megabits per second (Mbps) download and 3 Mbps upload;
create and update a state broadband plan;
engage in outreach to communities regarding the expansion and adoption of broadband service and the programs administered by the BDO; and
serve as the state’s subject matter expert for federal funding to help local governments
Hegar will serve as chairman of a 10-member board of advisors that will guide the new office.
In December 2020, Connected Nation Texas, a broadband advocacy group, estimated that 316,717 Texas households were “unserved” by 25/3 Mbps broadband, about 89 percent of them in rural areas.
Texas broadband planning began in earnest in 2019, when Gov. Greg Abbott formed the Governor’s Broadband Development Council. In September 2020, a bipartisan group of 88 Texas legislators wrote the governor stressing the need for a state broadband plan. Texas is one of only six states without such a plan. Later, the council formally recommended that legislators create both a state broadband plan and a state broadband office.
Rep. Trent Ashby, R-Lufkin, sponsor of HB 5, worked to put those recommendations in place.
“I applaud Comptroller Hegar for taking a personal interest in the importance of connectivity and working tirelessly to ensure these efforts remain ahead of schedule,” Ashby said. “Broadband is a necessity for the 21st century, and all Texans, no matter their ZIP code, can benefit from the creation of this new office.”
A separate, related piece of legislation created the Broadband Pole Replacement Fund, which would reimburse broadband service providers for up to 50 percent of eligible pole replacement costs in underserved areas. This program will be funded by federal money received through the Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund.