Guillen: It’s important rural communities make their voices heard as broadband funds become available

dfwnewsa | December 5, 2023 | 0 | Technology , Technology News

Guillen: It’s important rural communities make their voices heard as broadband funds become available

Thank you all. Rose often invites me to these things and it always turns out that I’m not here. And so she invited me a couple of weeks ago to this and I said, I’m looking at the schedule, and I said, I don’t think I’m going to be in town. And that changed yesterday, late yesterday. And so I called her and said, hey, I’m actually going to be in town, do you still want me to go? She said, yes. I said, okay, so that’s why I’m here. 

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I want to first of all, thank the (Starr County) Industrial Foundation and South Texas College for putting this on. It’s always important to have these discussions and it is a pivotal and critical time to have this particular one. I’ll explain why in a little bit, but I want to thank Roses and Industrial Foundation for putting this on and having this conversation at this point. 

Broadband is essential for a growing economy and for schools and for healthcare, for businesses. We saw that highlighted during COVID, of course, a couple of years ago when we were all home. All of our students needed access to broadband. I have a very rural 11-county district, and across the district, we had issues with kids being unable to access what they needed to access to be educated. And so broadband has turned out to be a very, very, very important issue across the state of Texas, across the country, and certainly across rural Texas, including here in Starr County. 

So, a few years ago, I guess it was 2019, we created a council that was charged with giving us recommendations on what to do with broadband in Texas. In 2021, we then created the State Broadband Office of the State as a result of the council’s recommendations. We put some money into it. Actually we put about half a billion dollars into a program for broadband infrastructure. And they have since figured out that there’s a little over an estimated one million unserved or underserved entities, mostly homes, some businesses, across the state of Texas, particularly in rural areas. And so that includes Starr County. We’ve got a number here in Starr County and so that’s why it’s important to to have this conversation. 

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The federal government, Congress, subsequently passed a big package that included $3.3 billion for the state of Texas to expand broadband and bridge the digital divide. That $3.3 billion has strings attached. One of which is that there’s a 25% match. And so in the state of Texas this year passed $1.5 billion in our appropriations bill towards towards broadband in an effort to try to bridge that digital divide and to make that match for that $3.3 billion. 

We also had Proposition 8. One of the requirements that we have when we’re creating a new fund is that we have to get approval of the voters. So we had that Proposition 8. I think we got 70% approval in the election. And we’re happy to to to have had it passed. And now that fun and that process is… well, they’re in the process of coming up with rules. Right now, actually, they’re in the process of taking in recommendations and comments from the public and that ends December 4, just a few days from now. December 4 will be the last day to take in comments from the public and then they’ll come up with rules on how this money is going to be spent. But bottom line, we’re taking $3.3 billion from the federal government, and the state is matching it with $1.5 billion. And, 25 percent of the $3.3 billion was needed, but that only equals about $800 million, roughly. And so the state is actually putting in more than what we needed to in order to try to bridge that digital divide and do our part as well. 

But it’s also an effort to alleviate local entities from having to put that 25% in. And, of course, it’s largely known that even this $4.8 billion probably will still not be enough to bridge the entire digital divide across the state of Texas. 

And so that’s why the rules are very important and what exactly they put into these rules. Because in order to actually get there, you’re probably going to need some kind of investment from local companies like VTX1 and others across the state that are in this business, possibly for local governments, also. 

And so, this is an opportunity right now. We’ve got the opportunity, one, to give public comment and I think it’s important for rural communities to point out how strapped rural communities are at this point, to make sure that the rules model the problems and the concerns that we’ve got in our communities. 

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I think it’s also important that we maximize every dollar and to the extent that the private industry wants to come in and have public-private partnerships and bridge that digital divide and help bridge that digital divide like VTX1 has for many, many years… we look forward to those opportunities. 

And so it’s important that we have this conversation now. So that as soon as… because it’s coming fast. As soon as we’re able to apply, VTX1 might be able to apply, depending on the rules. Or, perhaps, it’s some of the local government entities. But, we want to be competitive and we want to make sure that we get our fair share. And we want to make sure that we maximize these opportunities at this time because this opportunity probably won’t come back for a long, long time. 

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And so, again, I commend the Industrial Foundation, South Texas College, all the local players and VTX1 for coming into our community, for investing in our community, for being proactive and working to make sure that we do everything necessary to connect everyone in our community to the internet, to broadband and to make sure that our education and our economy are strong in each one of our communities here in Starr County. 

Congratulations again on on such a good job. I look forward to continue working with you guys to do our part to represent you and to have an open door and to make sure that we do everything possible to make our community even better as we go forward. Thank you all again.

Editor’s Note: The above commentary was provided by state Rep. Ryan Guillen of Rio Grande City at a recent broadband connectivity event hosted by Starr County Industrial Foundation. It was held at South Texas College’s Starr County Campus. The “Rose” that Guillen referred to was Rose Benavidez, president of Starr County Industrial Foundation.

Editor’s Note: Here is a video recording of Rep. Guillen’s remarks at the SCIF event:


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