Texas Opens Broadband Program, Montana Fiber Build, Affordable Connectivity Program Must Be Extended

Blackfoot will start fiber construction this spring.

Texas Opens Broadband Program, Montana Fiber Build, Affordable Connectivity Program Must Be Extended
Photo of Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar from his website

April 5, 2023 – The state of Texas has opened Monday the application process for the $120 million Bringing Online Opportunities to Texas program for broadband deployment in eligible areas on Monday, according to the government’s website.

The funding comes from the Treasury Department’s Capital Projects Fund, which plowed $363.8 million into the state to build broadband networks.

“This is an important step that my agency is taking to fulfill our legislative directive to connect every Texan to broadband service,” said Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar. “Nearly 7 million Texans don’t have access to broadband services. That’s 7 million Texans who can’t access job postings, telemedicine appointments, work or educational opportunities from home. This grant process is a big start in bridging that digital divide.”

Earlier this year, the state released the map of eligible areas for funding and those areas that are unserved, which is defined as those lacking speeds of 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload.

Blackfoot to begin fiber project in Montana this spring

Montana-based internet service provider Blackfoot Communications announced Tuesday plans to start a fiber project in a rural part of the state, according to press release.

The $76 million investment includes more than $60 million from ConnectMT grants awarded by the State of Montana and $16 million contributed by Blackfoot.

“Blackfoot Communications is proud to put these funds to work in rural Montana,” said CEO Jason Williams. “Access to high-speed internet is essential for businesses, education and families, and these grants help us reach underserved communities in Western Montana.”

Blackfoot Communications was also previously awarded seven grants to build broadbands in four counties and different individual communities in the state of Montana. The construction will begin in the spring and is estimated to be finished by 2026.

Congress should focus on extending Affordable Connectivity Program

The Free State Foundation, a nonpartisan think tank, is urging Congress to extend the Affordable Connectivity Program.

In a post on Wednesday, the think tank’s president Randolph May said “it is now obvious that, for most people, having access to a high-speed broadband connection plays an important role in enhancing, if not in many cases determining, a person’s quality of life. The ability to take advantage of various educational opportunities, apply for jobs, interact effectively with government websites to obtain critical public services, participate in community activities, use social media, or just connect with family and friends, usually requires adequate broadband access. There’s no doubt that the lack of a broadband connection often puts lower-income persons who are unable to afford one at a distinct disadvantage.”

The FCC program, which provides monthly broadband discounts of $30 and $75 for households on tribal lands, currently has 17 million Americans signed-up, but many more are reportedly eligible. Many have called for a longer-term solution to the program.

May added that there also should be guardrails for the program to ensure there is no fraud or waste.

“It is appropriate for Congress to consider reforms to ensure it’s operating on a fiscally responsible, sustainable basis,” he said. “Congress also should consider incorporating strong independent accountability and transparency measures, along with frequent reporting to Congress to facilitate congressional oversight aimed at minimizing any waste, fraud, and abuse in the program.”

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