By Kelty Garbee, Ph.D.
In the noise and shuffle of lawmakers’ work at the Texas Capitol earlier this year, our legislators made a wise (and critically needed) investment in broadband infrastructure. Lawmakers did their part by setting aside $1.5 billion in state funding for broadband, and now voters must do their part at the ballot box this fall.
State constitutional amendment elections are often low-turnout, little-fanfare elections, but on November 7, the future of Texas is on the ballot. Among the fourteen constitutional amendments under consideration, Proposition 8 is essential for building a stronger Texas.
If voters approve, Prop 8 will create the Broadband Infrastructure Fund, releasing $1.5 billion in state funds to the Texas Comptroller to support broadband. This is not a new tax; these funds have already been set aside by the Legislature, but they can’t be used without voter approval.
There’s no question that Texas is on the move. Our economy is strong and our population is rapidly growing, but we don’t have the broadband infrastructure that we need in place. Imagine what it would mean for Texas if every home was connected, every student was plugged in, and all communities had access to high-speed internet in this high-tech economy.
We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to infuse funds into broadband infrastructure that is both vital to our urban centers and a true lifeline for our rural communities.
Right now, nearly 1 in 4 Texans don’t have access to broadband. That translates to 7.4 million people or 3 million households. The problem is especially acute in our rural communities, where high-speed internet lags or simply doesn’t exist.
Broadband connects us to each other and the services we need every day. Students need it to learn. Hospitals need it to operate. Businesses need it to reach their customers. First responders – including police, firefighters, and ambulances – need it to ensure our safety. Connecting every Texan to broadband is essential to a prosperous, competitive state.
Prop 8 is truly something we all need. This bipartisan measure is focused on expanding internet service to areas of the state that are unserved or underserved. If approved, Prop 8 will help draw down additional federal funds for broadband, to the tune of $3.3 billion dollars. With the state’s growing population, our infrastructure must keep pace with the demands on it.
Our state leaders were forward-thinking and met the moment by committing state funds to broadband without raising taxes. Now, it’s the voters’ turn to show their love for their state and their commitment to its future. Rural and urban Texans can follow the example of their representatives and come together today to make the Texas of tomorrow possible. A vote yes on Proposition 8 is a vote for a stronger, more connected Texas.
Dr. Kelty Garbee is the Executive Director of Texas Rural Funders.