The year 2020 is well underway and as we are less than a year away from the start of the 2021 session of the Texas Legislature. Legislators are currently in full preparation mode in advance of next session.
Most notably those preparations included the House State Affairs Committee meeting on January 30 to look into the implementation of three telecommunications bills from last session: SB 14, HB 1960 and HB 2422. These bills dealt with electric cooperatives offering broadband service, the creation of the Governor’s Broadband Development Council and coordination by the Texas Department of Transportation (TXDoT) of right of way access during state transportation projects, respectively.
Chairman Dade Phelan, R-Orange, presided over the meeting, which was limited to testimony on the three new laws. On SB 14, the committee heard testimony from one witness: Mike Williamson testified on behalf of the Texas Electric Cooperatives. Williams testified that seven coops are already providing high-speed Internet broadband services and three are expected to provide broadband service in the near future.
Several House State Affairs committee members asked probing questions of Williams. Rep. Drew Springier, R-Muenster, and Rep. Bobby Guerra, D-McAllen, asked whether coops planned to offer service in areas that already have broadband service or in areas currently unserved. Williams testified that the cooperatives are targeting areas currently unserved.
Springer and Phelan asked about poll attachment fees and Williams responded the coops are committed to charging fair and reasonable poll attachment fees.
Rep. Justin Holland, R-Rockwall, asked about the possibility of cross-subsidization between the electric and broadband portions of an electric cooperative’s business. Williams responded coops were committed to not subsidizing their broadband service with electric revenue and are required under the legislation to keep separate books for the two services.
On HB 2422, the committee heard brief testimony from Kyle Madsen from the state Transportation Department. He said TXDoT is committed to providing information to telecommunications companies about projects affecting rights-of-way to make sure there is opportunity to access their rights-of-way as projects are planned and undertaken. He said the TXDoT website has a listing of projects TXDoT plans to undertake in the next 10 years.
Chair Phelan also provided an update on Gov. Greg Abbott’s appointments to the Governor’s Broadband Development Council, including the appointment of former TTA board member Kirk Petty of
Santa Rosa Telephone Cooperative, Inc..
Phelan announced House Speaker Dennis Bonnen has appointed Rep. Ken King, R-Canadian, as his legislative appointment to the council. This was a surprise as the legislation was authored by Rep. Four Price, R-Amarillo, and traditionally bill authors serve on panels or committees created by their legislation.
With the interim committee activity shifting into high gear – including Senate and House of Representatives interim committees and the Governor’s Broadband Development Council – it is vital we make sure we are aware of and are providing the most relevant and up-to-date information. Please be sure to pass along any information you think could impact the implementation of these telecommunications bills or could affect the deliberations of the broadband council.
TTA is the leader in rural telecommunications policy in Texas and will continue to provide accurate and relevant information to policy makers. We rely on TTA member companies to make sure we are providing up-to-date information throughout the year to the Legislature and the new broadband development council.