ODESSA — State Representative Brooks Landgraf (R-Odessa) is taking an active role in the fight to expand broadband access in rural West Texas communities. After signing on to a letter submitted to Governor Greg Abbott calling for a statewide broadband plan, Landgraf joined other members of the legislature on a call with Public Utility Commission of Texas (PUC) officials on Wednesday to discuss the Texas Universal Service Fund, a funding source for rural telecommunication infrastructure improvements headed for insolvency.
“We need a robust statewide network that can carry voice, data and wireless traffic,” Landgraf said. “The coronavirus has exacerbated the already pressing need for rural communities to have reliable phone and internet service. It is essential to take proactive steps immediately to ensure rural Texans have access to telework and essential services, such as remote learning and telemedicine.”
The Texas Universal Service Fund (USF) was created by the Texas Legislature in 1987 to assist telecommunications providers in providing basic local telecommunications service at reasonable rates in high cost rural areas. Earlier this year, officials were informed the fund could become insolvent as soon as January, 2021.
“This is an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone,” Landgraf said. “The legislature is being forced into action because the fund is running out of money, but part of the problem is that the USF can’t be used for broadband. It’s time to take a fresh look at the statute, get the USF solvent and ensure it can be used to provide broadband access in the rural parts of Texas.”
The Texas Legislature convenes for a 140-day regular session at the Texas Capitol in Austin on the second Tuesday in January of each odd-numbered year. The 87th Texas Legislative Session is set to begin on January 21, 2021.