Electric Co-Ops To Help Bring Broadband to Rural Texas

Second of four bills on broadband in Texas gets the Governor’s okay

 

June 10, 2019

 

Texas electric co-operatives will bring broadband service to neglected areas of the state under new legislation.

Governor Greg Abbott has signed Senate Bill 14, state Sen. Robert Nichols‘ plan to “empower” co-ops to bring Internet service to members they serve by allowing them to use their existing electricity easements.

The legislation, effective immediately, requires the “pole attachment term rates” for Internet access be comparable to the fees charged to “other broadband services,” as a way to help keep costs of stringing coax or fiber optic cable lower.

The governor has also signed a bill establishing an advisory office but has yet to okay the implementing of broadband in state offices; a fourth bill to bring a broadband office to the PUC died in committee (see below).

Co-op affiliates will also be involved in projects to string cable to rural areas, and just like co-ops, will be allowed to construct, operate, and maintain fiber optic cables across areas used by co-ops without restrictions.

That includes attaching cable to existing electricity poles

The co-ops are in turn required to essentially establish sub-co-ops, keeping separate financial accounts for broadband systems, and 60-day notifications are required to be delivered to landowners who may see workers on their properties installing cable lines.

The notices must be by first class mail to the last known address of each person in whose name the property is listed on the most recent tax roll of each county.

Landowners will be able to protest installation on their properties up to 60 days (not later than the 60th day after the date notice is mailed by the electric cooperative or electric cooperative affiliate) before scheduled work is to begin — the legislation provides for the co-op to be barred from using land about which property owners have protested, but easements are excluded.

There is a provision in the legislation which prohibits the rates charged by co-ops for broadband service to be less than that the co-op charges to other broadband services that also use the co-ops’ electricity poles.

Also ready for Governor Abbot’s signature is Rep. Charles “Doc” Anderson’s HB 2422, which would encourage deployment of broadband conduit such as fiber-optic cables on state-owned land and in state buildings.

Money for those projects can be won from the US Department of Agriculture and the Federal Communications Commission.

Sen. Nichols’ SB 14 is a companion bill to Representative Four Price‘s HB 1960, which created a 17-member Governor’s Broadband Development Council to advise the Legislature on steps needed to improve Internet access in rural areas.

Rep. Price’s bill has already been signed by Gov. Abbott.

The Governor’s Broadband Development Council will be made up of two Texas-based representatives each from Internet service provider associations, unaffiliated nonprofit organizations that have “a demonstrated history of working with the legislature and the public to identify solutions for expanding broadband to rural, unserved areas” and unaffiliated nonprofit organizations that advocate for elderly persons statewide.

The council will include one Texas representative each from the health information technology industry, an agricultural advocacy organization, a hospital advocacy organization in this state and a medical advocacy organization.

Also to named to the council: A county official who serves in an elected county office with a population of less than 35,000, a municipal official who serves in an elected office of a municipality with a population of less than 20,000 located in a county with a population of less than 60,000, a representative of an institution of higher education that has its main campus in a county with a population of less than 60,000, one representative of a school district with a territory that includes only counties with a population of less than 60,000 and one representative from a library association.

All 15 of those positions will be named by Governor Greg Abbott.

Then there will be two more council members, one member of the house of representatives to be appointed by the speaker of the house of representatives; and one state senator to be appointed by the lieutenant governor.

Rep. Charles Anderson‘s HB 2423 to establish an in-house broadband office at the Public Utility Commission of Texas, which also called for establishing a state-funded budget, never made it out of committee..