AUSTIN — Texas will receive more than $26 million for rural broadband expansion.
The U.S. Department of Agriculture announced last week an additional $401 million for high-speed internet access in rural communities across the country. Of that, two Texas companies will receive $26..41 million in grants.
“Connectivity is critical to economic success in rural America,” USDA Secretary Tom Vilsack said in a statement. “The internet is vital to our growth and continues to act as a catalyst for our prosperity. From the farm to the school, from households to international markets, connectivity drives positive change in our communities.”
The first grant of $16.6 million will go to Five Area Telephone Cooperative Inc., in Muleshoe, northwest of Lubbock. The fiber-to-the-premises network will connect 1,402 people, 50 businesses, 712 farms and four public schools to high-speed internet in Bailey, Cochran, Hockley, Lamb and Parmer counties, USDA officials said.
A second grant of $9.8 million was awarded to Central Texas Telephone Cooperative Inc., based in Goldthwaite, west of Waco. It will be used to deploy a fiber-to-the-premises network, USDA officials said. In addition, Central Texas Telephone Cooperative also received a $9.8 million loan to help complete the project.
This network will connect 647 people, 19 businesses and 151 farms to high-speed internet in Lampasas and San Saba counties, officials said.
Both cooperatives also will make high-speed internet affordable by participating in the Federal Communications Commission’s Lifeline Program and the Affordable Connectivity Program, which allow eligible households to receive discounts for broadband services, USDA officials added.
Separately, Gov. Greg Abbott received the Broadband Champion Award on Wednesday where he spoke on the importance of expanding broadband access.
“The fact of the matter is, broadband access is no longer a luxury. It is an essential tool for every sector,” Abbott said during a press conference. “A top priority is to make sure that this broadband expansion reaches every corner of the entire state.”
Abbott added that expanding reliable broadband connectivity will be a key issue in the next session of the Texas Legislature, building on work previously done by state lawmakers. During the last legislative session, Texas funded the establishment of a Texas Broadband Development Office as part of the state’s larger effort to address lacking broadband access statewide.
In June, the BDO released a report that outlined the office’s goals including the establishment of broadband availability maps and the development of grant programs as a means to distribute $500.4 million in federal broadband infrastructure funding.
“The bottom line is this - no matter what part of the state of Texas that you may be, you will have access to fast and reliable internet,” Abbott said. “The future of Texas is increasingly online, and we are bringing that to absolutely everybody.”
Brad Kellar contributed to this report.