FEATURED, FROM LEFT: Alonzo Cantú of McAllen, Juan Sánchez, President, the University of Houston-Downtown, and Tilman Fertitta, Chair, Board of Regents, University of Houston System. This image of the three Texas leaders features Cantú being sworn in as a member of the University of Houston System Board of Regents soon after his appointment in November 2019 by Gov. Greg Abbott.
Photograph Courtesy UNIVERSITY OF HOUSTON SYSTEM
Alonzo Cantú selected as key advisor on statewide plan to provide affordable, high-speed broadband to millions of Texans, announces Texas Speaker of the House Dade Phelan
Broadband — an Internet connection with sufficient speed to deliver online experiences including full-motion video without significant lag time — is increasingly seen as a requirement for modern life. Yet census data indicate that nearly 20 percent of Texas households don’t have it — and until they do, they’ll continue to be shut out of the modern economy.
As a result, during the regular session in 2021 of the Texas Legislature, state lawmakers approved – and Gov. Greg Abbott signed into law – House Bill 5, legislation which was directly shaped by Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, Sen. Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, and Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo/Starr County.
Legislation is a proposed or enacted law or group of laws.
House Bill 5 – which was supported by the entire Rio Grande Valley legislative delegation – is a groundbreaking plan to provide affordable, high-speed broadband to “almost 2.8 million Texas households, including seven million people, lack broadband access,” according to Fiscal Notes.
Fiscal Notes, a publication of the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, features articles and analyses devoted to a wide variety of topics of Texas interest and general government concern.
“Twenty-three percent of Texans have limited ability to attend virtual classes, see a health care provider from their living room, fill out a job application online, start a business or access online marketplaces from their kitchen table. This problem disproportionately affects rural communities, communities of color and low-income families.”
Recently, another renowned Texas leader from the Rio Grande Valley – Alonzo Cantú of McAllen – will help guide House Bill 5 into reality by providing his expertise to guide the Texas Broadband Development Office as a member of its Board of Advisors.
The Texas Broadband Development Office was created by the 87th Legislature in 2021 and is situated within the Office of the Comptroller. The Board of Advisors provides guidance to the Broadband Development Office regarding the expansion, adoption, affordability and use of broadband service and programs administered by the office.
The Texas Broadband Development Office was established shortly afterward to award grants, low-interest loans and other financial incentives to expand access to broadband service across the state. The Legislature appropriated $5 million to the Comptroller to administer the program.
Additionally, the American Rescue Plan Act enacted by the federal government has allocated $500.5 million to Texas for broadband expansion, while the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will allocate at least $100 million, according to the Office of the Texas Comptroller.
The State Broadband Development Office will provide oversight of the $500.5 million that was appropriated during the Third Called Special Session to the Texas Legislature in 2021.
The State Broadband Development Office will also prepare a state broadband plan that establishes long-term goals for greater access to, affordability, and adoption of broadband service. This plan will help Texas draw down additional funding from the $42.5 billion that was appropriated in the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act.
The federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act means historic investment that will modernize our roads, bridges, transit, rail, ports, airports, broadband, and drinking water and wastewater infrastructure. This legislation does not raise taxes on everyday Americans, and it will create good-paying union jobs.
Cantú is described by his alma mater, the University of Houston System – “as a banker, developer, philanthropist and community leader (who) has been a driving force behind the transformation of the business and political landscape of South Texas — the third fastest growing metropolitan statistical area in the country.”
Those and other major achievements were more than enough for Texas Speaker of the House Dade Phelan, R-Beaumont, on Thursday, April 14, 2022, to name Cantú as one his three selections to the Broadband Development Office Board of Advisors.
In addition to the McAllen native, Phelan also selected Rep. Trent Ashby, R-Lufkin, and Mari Robinson, the Director of Telehealth for the University of Texas System, one of the state’s largest providers of telemedicine and virtual health services, as his choices to serve on the 10-member Broadband Development Office Board of Advisors.
“Making sure Texans across our state have access to broadband is more important than ever, which is why I’m so pleased to announce the appointments of these three individuals to help oversee expansion and affordability efforts to the service,” Phelan said. “After spearheading the legislation in 2021 that allocated over $500 million to fund broadband expansion efforts in Texas, I’m confident that Rep. Ashby’s expertise on the issue, along with the deep knowledge and experience both Alonzo Cantú and Mari Robinson bring to the table on this topic, is just the leadership we need on the Board of Advisors for the Texas Broadband Development Office.”
RIO GRANDE VALLEY LAWMAKERS ENDORSE CANTÚ SELECTION
Rep. Terry Canales
Rep. Terry Canales, D-Edinburg, is the only Rio Grande Valley legislator to serve as a joint author of House Bill 5,which created the Broadband Development Office.
“I offer my congratulations and deep thanks to Alonzo Cantú for stepping up to serve on the Board of Advisors to the Broadband Development Office,” said Canales, who also serves as Chair, House Committee on Transportation. “The son of migrant farmworkers, Alonzo Cantú is a self-made American success story who has been a driving force in the transformation of the business landscape in South Texas.”
In the Texas Legislature, an author – also called the primary author – is the legislator who files a bill and guides it through the legislative process.
“Files” is used to refer to a measure (bill) that has been introduced into the legislative process and given a number
In the House of Representatives, a joint author is a member authorized by the primary author of a bill or resolution to join in the authorship of the measure and have his or her name shown following the primary author’s name on official printings of the measure, on calendars, and in the journal. The primary author may authorize up to four joint authors.
The primary author of House Bill 5 is Rep. Trent Ashby, R-Lufkin.
“Along the way, Alonzo Cantú has been focused on giving back to the community and improving the quality of life for all South Texans,” Canales added. He joins Sergio Contreras, CEO, Atlas, Hall & Rodríguez, LLP, on the Broadband Development Office Board of Advisors, ensuring the Rio Grande Valley has significant influence as the State of Texas works to close the digital divide.”
Sen. Juan Hinojosa
Passing broadband expansion legislation was a priority during the 2021 Regular Session, said Sen. Juan Hinojosa, D-McAllen.
“Having access to the Internet is no longer a luxury or convenience, it is a necessity,” he said. “Not having access to broadband at home, prevents many from being able to telework, have access to virtual schooling, or be able to take advantage of telemedicine appointments.”
Hinojosa was coauthor of Senate Bill 5, authored by Sen. Robert Nichols, R-Jacksonville.
Senate Bill 5 was the Senate version of House Bill 5 – with some differences between the two measures – and House Bill 5 was the measure eventually approved by the Texas Legislature and signed into law by Gov. Greg Abbott.
A coauthor is a legislator authorized by the primary author of a bill or resolution to join in the authorship of the measure. A coauthor must be a member of the chamber (Senate or House of Representatives in which the bill was filed.
“I worked with Sen. Nichols to ensure South Texas was represented in the Board of Advisors,” Hinojosa said. “As a member of the conference committee of House Bill 5, the committee charged with working out the differences between the House and the Senate, I worked with the conferees to keep a South Texas representative on the Board. The Board of Advisors will provide guidance to the State Broadband Development Office regarding the expansion, adoption, affordability, and use of broadband service and the programs administered by the office.”
Lt. Gov. Dan Patrick, R-Houston, appointed Sergio Contreras earlier this year to fill that position, the South Texas senator noted.
“I am pleased Speaker Dade Phelan has appointed another South Texan, Mr. Alonzo Cantú, to the Board of Advisors. Mr. Cantú is a lifelong resident of the Rio Grande Valley and understands the needs of our communities,” Hinojosa said.
Growing up, Cantú worked as a migrant farmworker and worked his way up to becoming an entrepreneur.
“His background experience is extensive in construction, banking, health care, and education. As owner, partner, and leader of various businesses and organizations, Mr. Cantú has the experience, knowledge, and understands the importance of delivering results in an effective and efficient manner,” Hinojosa continued. “Mr. Cantú will do a great job in advising the State Broadband Development Office on the expansion of broadband across Texas and in advocating for the needs of our South Texas communities.”
Rep. Sergio Muñoz, Jr.
Public sentiment has been consistent: slow data speeds, unreliable access, affordability and coordination are critical areas of concern for Texas families, businesses, educators and farmers, states the Texas Broadband Plan 2020.
“Almost four million Texas residents – including many elderly individuals – face digital literacy challenges, and through the passage of House Bill 5, plans are underway to help this vital population, including plans such as the Broadband Development Office working in partnership with the American Association of Retired Persons with connective and digital literacy support,” said Rep. Sergio Muñoz, D-Mission.
Muñoz is a coauthor of House Bill 5.
Digital literacy refers to an individual’s ability to find, evaluate, and communicate information through typing and other media on various digital platforms. It is evaluated by an individual’s grammar, composition, typing skills and ability to produce text, images, audio and designs using technology.
Internet connectivity is the ability of individuals and organizations to connect to the Internet using computer terminals, computers, and other devices; and to access services such as email and the World Wide Web.
“Also being considered are proposals to develop additional partnerships with state agencies, nonprofits and associations that service residents with digital literacy challenges, according to the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts,” Muñoz noted.
Sen. Judith Zaffirini
Sen. Judith Zaffirini, D-Laredo/Starr County, said House Bill 5 will help Texans reach out to, inform, and influence policy decisions by elected leaders at all levels of government.
“Closing the digital divide is necessary for Texans to learn or work remotely, access online resources, interact with legislators and community leaders and engage fully with their communities. Unfortunately, low-income and rural Texans — especially those who are also racial or ethnic minorities—can be excluded from online spaces due to slow or unreliable internet access,” said Zaffirini. “I was delighted to co-sponsor House Bill 5 to reduce this disparity by enhancing internet access for persons in Senate District 21 and throughout the state.”
A sponsor is the legislator who guides a bill through the legislative process after the bill has passed the originating chamber (Senate or House of Representatives). The sponsor is a member of the opposite chamber of the one in which the bill was filed.
A cosponsor is a legislator who joins with the primary sponsor to guide a bill or resolution through the legislative process in the opposite chamber. A cosponsor must be a member of the opposite chamber from the one in which the measure was filed.
Rep. R.D. “Bobby” Guerra
Rep. R.D. “Bobby” Guerra, D-McAllen, a coauthor of House Bill 5, serves as Vice Chair, House Committee on Public Health, noted the importance of the legislation to medical and public safety needs of many Texans.
“Especially for Texans who are elderly, immobile and rural, accessing quality healthcare in an ongoing challenge, according to Texas Broadband Plan 2022, a detailed blueprint for this effort that was produced by the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts,” the state lawmaker said. “As a founder and leader of DHR Health, Alonzo Cantú has much experience and achievements in providing the highest-quality medical and health care to South Texans, and his contributions to this effort will be invaluable for us.”
Telemedicine is dependent on patients’ access to reliable high-speed internet access and a foundation of digital literacy. Broadband also contributes to the health and safety of all Texans by providing a reliable backbone for emergency communication and coordination, including day-to-day public safety operations and emergency response following natural disaster, also according to Texas Broadband Plan 2022.
Limited broadband access in many regions of the state limits public health and safety.
“Congratulations to my long-time amigo Alonzo Cantú on his appointment to the Board of Advisors, Broadband Development Board. He is an honorable, upstanding member of this community and we couldn’t be represented by a better person,” Guerra said. “His business and philanthropic efforts have formidably shaped the Valley and I’m proud to have his strong voice shaping the future of broadband accessibility in Texas.”
Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez
According to a 2016 Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas report, the lack on Internet and broadband services disproportionately affects rural communities, communities of color and low-income families, the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts has found. Since that report’s publication, the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the adoption of technology for some but expanded the digital divide for others. The digital divide refers to the gap between those with broadband access and those without, whether caused by a lack of infrastructure, digital literacy, affordable service or access to devices.
Rep. Armando “Mando” Martínez, D-Weslaco, also a coauthor of House Bill 5, applauded the Texas Speaker of the House for his selection of Cantú to the Board of Advisors, Broadband Development Board.
“His vast knowledge of the Rio Grande Valley and South Texas will make him an invaluable asset as highly-regarded advisor to the Broadband Development Board,” Martínez predicted. “As we all learned during COVID, broadband access was not available to those who needed it the most. Now with Alonzo Cantú – along with Sergio Contreras – on the Board of Advisors, Broadband Development Board, our voice will be heard and followed.”
Rep. Óscar Longoria, Jr.
Cantú’s influence and achievements have significantly helped the best interests of the Rio Grande Valley fo many years, and his appointment to the Board of Advisors, Broadband Development Board, will continue to positively serve deep South Texas and the state, said Rep. Óscar Longoria, D-Mission.
“For years his work and dedication to the Rio Grande Valley have spurred the growth of our region,” said Longoria, a coauthor of House Bill 5. “With this appointment, he can ensure that we bridge the digital divide and provide our residents with the full resources needed to succeed in today’s technology-driven world.”
The digital divide is a gap between those who have access to digital technology and those who do not. These technologies include, but are not limited to, smart phones, computers, and the internet. In the Information Age in which information and communication technologies (ICTs) have eclipsed manufacturing technologies as the basis for world economies and social connectivity, people without access to the Internet and other ICTs are at a socio-economic disadvantage because they are unable or less able to find and apply for jobs, shop and sell online, participate democratically, or research and learn.
“Building up our broadband infrastructure in the Valley increases access to affordable health care, education, and countless more benefits, whether one lives in a rural or urban area. With Mr. Cantú helping to guide the way on this vital initiative, the Valley and the state of Texas are in sure and experienced hands,” Longoria added. “Congratulations to Mr. Alonzo Cantú on his appointment to the Board of Advisors for the Texas Broadband Development Office.”
BIOGRAPHIES OF APPOINTEES BY SPEAKER OF THE HOUSE PHELAN
The Speaker of the House of Representatives provided the following biographies of his three appointees:
• Cantú is the President of Cantú Construction and Development. A self-made businessman in South Texas, he serves as Chairman of the Board of Lone Star National Bank, Chairman of the Finance Committee of Doctors Hospital at Renaissance Health System and as a member of the University of Houston System Board of Regents. Cantú is the owner of two minor league teams, the Rio Grande Valley Toros and the Rio Grande Valley Vipers, and founder of the Valley Alliance for Mentors, Opportunities, and Scholarships, a non-profit organization dedicated to raising scholarship funds for local underprivileged and talented individuals.
• Ashby is serving his fifth two-year term as State Representative for House District 57. In 2021, Ashby authored House Bill 5, which enabled the creation of the Broadband Development Office and allocated more than $500 million to fund broadband expansion in Texas. As author (sometimes called primary author), he was the legislator who filed House Bill 5 and guided it through the legislative process. “Filed” is used to refer to a measure that has been introduced into the legislative process and given a number. Ashby is a member of the House Committees on Appropriations, Transportation, and Constitutional Rights & Remedies, which he serves as Chair.
• Robinson is the Director of Telehealth for the University of Texas System, one of the state’s largest providers of telemedicine and virtual health services. Robinson also serves as Director of the newly-created Medical Technology Resource & Education Center, which provides training and support in the area of medical technology, as a committee member of the Health and Human Services Commission’s eHealth Advisory Committee and as a board member of the TexLa Telehealth Resource Center. She previously served as Executive Director for the Texas Medical Board.
To learn more about the Texas Broadband Development Office and its functions, go to:
Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar releases Texas Broadband Plan
Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar on Wednesday, June 15, 2022 released his agency’s Texas Broadband Plan to support the expansion of broadband access for underserved and unserved Texans.
The Comptroller’s Broadband Development Office crafted the plan building upon the feedback that Hegar and Broadband Development Office staff collected from Texans through 12 public town halls, 60 virtual regional roundtable discussions and more than 16,000 survey responses.
“We compiled lessons learned from a dozen town hall visits via my Texas Broadband Listening Tour, survey responses, analysis of results and staff recommendations to create this initial Texas Broadband Plan,” Hegar wrote in a letter to Texas lawmakers. “An important, recurring theme has been the reminder that though high-speed internet may once have been a luxury, it is now a necessity. Texans need reliable, high-speed connectivity for a wide range of potential applications including public health, safety, education and modern agriculture.
“We developed this plan to be useful, insightful and sound as a road map for improvement. This is a monumental task, and we must work together to accomplish it,” the state comptroller added. “Expanding broadband access will require collaboration and partnerships between local governments and private entities, across counties and among residents.”
U.S. Census Bureau data indicate almost 2.8 million Texas households, including seven million people, lack broadband access. Twenty-three percent of Texans have limited ability to attend virtual classes, see a health care provider from their living room, fill out a job application online, start a business or access online marketplaces from their kitchen table.
This problem disproportionately affects rural communities, communities of color and low-income families.
Gov. Greg Abbott prioritized expanding broadband access as one of five emergency items for the 87th Legislature in his State of the State address on Monday, February 1, 2021.
The Broadband Development Office was established shortly afterward to award grants, low-interest loans and other financial incentives to expand access to broadband service across the state. The Legislature appropriated $5 million to the Comptroller to administer the program.
Additionally, the American Rescue Plan Act enacted by the federal government has allocated $500.5 million to Texas for broadband expansion, while the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act will allocate at least $100 million.
It should be noted that uncertainty remains concerning rules and restrictions governing these federal dollars. Texas and other states will need flexibility from the federal government to best utilize the resources available to bridge the digital divide.
Because potential federal funding and additional state funding are yet to be determined, this initial statewide plan is based on several guiding principles that will create the foundation for those future funds.
The plan will become more defined over time as federal agencies finalize program guidance and funding allocations. In addition, more detail will be added if the Texas Legislature appropriates additional state funding for new programs for broadband expansion.
Lastly, as the Broadband Development Office creates a more granular address-level broadband availability map, those data will help quantify the digital divide in ways that are impossible at the drafting of this initial plan and will allow the Broadband Development Office to operate with greater precision moving into the future.
Next steps are organized into three areas of focus aimed at maximizing available funding, providing for transparency and accountability, and understanding and overcoming barriers.
By early next year, the Broadband Development Office will:
• Establish a broadband-focused, federally compliant grant program;
• Publish a broadband availability map; and
• Manage recurring coordination and communication opportunities across stakeholder groups.
“Texas faces a huge challenge: Connecting more than one million households to high-speed broadband, improving connectivity for more than 5.6 million households, improving affordability of broadband for 3.6 million households and assisting 3.8 million Texans with digital literacy challenges,” Hegar said. “This plan is a foundation upon which the Texas Legislature, the Broadband Development Office and other stakeholders can build actionable programs.”
For more information about the Texas Broadband Plan, go to BroadbandForTexas.com.
Composition, Duties of the Broadband Development Office Board of Advisors
Two members are appointed by the governor, three members are appointed by the lieutenant governor, three members are appointed by the speaker of the house of representatives, one member is appointed by the comptroller or the comptroller’s designee, and one nonvoting member is appointed by the Broadband Development Office to represent the office.
House Bill 5 provides the following composition and duties of the Broadband Office Board of Advisors:
Section 490I.0110 – Board Of Advisors
(a) In this section:
(1) “Rural area” means a county with a population of less than 100,000 that is not adjacent to a county with a population of more than 350,000.
(2) “Urban area” means a county with a population of more than one million.
(b) The broadband development office board of advisors is composed of 10 members, appointed as follows:
(1) two members appointed by the governor, including:
(A) one member to represent the Texas Economic Development and Tourism Office; and
(B) one member to represent nonprofit corporations that work on the expansion, adoption, affordability, and use of broadband service;
(2) three members appointed by the lieutenant governor, including:
(A) one member who resides in an urban area;
(B) one member to represent the public primary and secondary education community; and
(C) one member who resides in a county that:
(i) is adjacent to an international border;
(ii) is located not more than 150 miles from the Gulf of Mexico; and
(iii) has a population of more than 60,000;
(3) three members appointed by the speaker of the house of representatives, including:
(A) one member who resides in a rural area;
(B) one member to represent the health and telemedicine industry; and
(C) one member to represent the public higher education community;
(4) the comptroller or the comptroller’s designee; and
(5) one nonvoting member appointed by the broadband development office to represent the office.
(c) The comptroller or the comptroller’s designee serves as the presiding officer of the board of advisors.
(d) Members of the board of advisors serve at the pleasure of the appointing authority for staggered two-year terms, with the terms of the members described by Subsections (b)(1) and (2) expiring February 1 of each odd-numbered year and the terms of the members described by Subsections (b)(3), (4), and (5) expiring February 1 of each even-numbered year. A member may serve more than one term.
(e) Not later than the 30th day after the date a member’s term expires, the appropriate appointing authority shall appoint a replacement in the same manner as the original appointment.
(f) If a vacancy occurs on the board of advisors, the appropriate appointing authority shall appoint a successor in the same manner as the original appointment to serve for the remainder of the unexpired term. The appropriate appointing authority shall appoint the successor not later than the 30th day after the date the vacancy occurs.
(g) The board of advisors shall provide guidance to the broadband development office regarding the expansion, adoption, affordability, and use of broadband service and the programs administered by the office.
(h) Beginning one year after the effective date of the Act enacting this chapter, the board of advisors shall meet at least once every other month with representatives from the broadband development office for the purpose of advising the work of the office in implementing the provisions of this chapter.
(i) A person who is professionally affiliated with a person serving as a member of the board of advisors is not eligible for funding from the broadband development program under Section 490I.0106.
(j) The board of advisors may consult with stakeholders with technical expertise in the area of broadband and telecommunication technology.
(k) Meetings of the board of advisors are subject to Chapter 551.
Tex. Gov’t. Code § 490I.0110
Added by Acts 2021, Texas Acts of the 87th Leg. – Regular Session, ch. TBD,Sec. 5, eff. 6/15/2021. See Acts 2021, Texas Acts of the 87th Leg. – Regular Session, ch. TBD, Sec. 8.
LightBox, a Data Company, selected to Develop Broadband Availability Map
Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar on Monday, August 8, 2022, announced his agency has selected data company LightBox to develop the state’s broadband availability map.
The map will help the Comptroller’s Broadband Development Office determine where to invest public funding in areas most in need of broadband connectivity as it implements the Texas Broadband Plan.
“We are excited to partner with LightBox for the important task of connecting Texans in unserved and underserved parts of this state. During my Broadband Listening Tour, I could see the frustration on people’s faces – they’re not connected, their connection is not reliable or they can’t afford it,” Hegar said. “When this map is complete, the Broadband Development Office along with community leaders and members of the public will be able to extract information from the map to better understand the needs of their regions and to make better decisions establishing programs related to broadband development.”
LightBox, which provides a geospatial mapping service, also has been employed by state officials in Georgia, Alabama and Montana to help create detailed broadband coverage maps.
Geospatial mapping is a form of spatial analysis technique. This technique uses sophisticated software that analyzes data about geographical or terrestrial databases through the use of Geographic Information Systems (GIS).
Geospatial mapping is different from traditional mapping, as geospatial mapping provides you with computerized data that can be used to create a custom map designed for your needs.
LightBox will soon start collecting data from Internet service providers throughout Texas in an effort to develop a comprehensive broadband availability map, which the company is expected to complete by January 2023.
“LightBox is the ideal partner in helping states map and identify a comprehensive view of every broadband serviceable location (BSL),” said Eric Frank, Chief Executive Officer, LightBox. “It’s a critical starting point for states to ensure they are maximizing the amount of federal funds they can receive and deploy those funds effectively. We are thrilled to add the state of Texas to the growing list of states where we are providing our SmartFabric™ BSL data and geographic information system expertise to bridge the digital divide and help ensure that all residents have access to reliable broadband service.”
The map will feature addresses of all types, including homes, businesses, public schools, charter schools, governmental entities, community anchor institutions, military bases, community colleges and tribal areas.
Chris Bryan and Ken Lyons contributed to this article. For more on this and other Texas legislative news stories that affect the Rio Grande Valley metropolitan region, please log on to Titans of the Texas Legislature (TitansoftheTexasLegislature.com).