Beto O’Rourke criticizes Governor Abbott for June veto

HOUSTON, Texas (KTRK) – While campaigning in rural Texas, Beto O’Rourke is accusing Governor Greg Abbott of blocking efforts to improve broadband internet access there, even as Abbott has prioritized the issue in the regular legislative session earlier this year.

O’Rourke, a Democrat who announced in November that he would run for governor, has begun criticizing the Republican governor for vetoing a bill in June that would have help supplement the General Service Fund, support telecommunications and internet services for more than 1 million rural people. Texas Household. Abbott argued that the bill “would impose a new fee on millions of Texans.”

The bill’s bipartisan advocates say it is essential to help boost revenue for the fund, which relies on a surcharge for voice calls in the state and has been outflowing for years. The lower the fund’s revenue, the less money must be repaid to providers, making service more difficult to maintain and more expensive to provide in remote areas of the state.

“It’s another example of how Greg Abbott is causing inflation, especially for rural Texas communities already struggling with higher prescription drug prices, higher gasoline prices,” O. ‘Rourke said while campaigning last week in Lubbock. “Greg Abbott is really hurting these rural communities.”

Related: Internet providers in rural Texas threatened after funding was cut

On Tuesday, O’Rourke ran a newspaper about the issue, saying it was “part of a broader trend of state leaders turning away from rural communities.”

Abbott’s campaign responded to O’Rourke by touting progress made in expanding broadband access after the governor made it an emergency item at the start of the regular session. Abbott spokesman Renae Eze said in a statement that the governor “signed six broadband reform bills, including the appropriation of more than $500 million, to significantly expand broadband access throughout Texas, especially in rural areas.”

The main piece of legislation passed was House Bill 5, which created a state broadband office to identify areas of need and coordinate funding for those areas.

But the bills Abbott supports are a separate issue from the General Services Fund, according to industry experts and the GOP author of the bill Abbott vetoed.

“While House Bill 5 is important … it is an entirely different topic from universal service,” said Mark Seale, executive director of the Texas Telephone Association.

Funding from House Bill 5 could support upgrades or expansions, but the General Services Fund maintains existing telecommunications infrastructure, Seale said.

Texas has long maintained a General Service Fund to subsidize telephony service in rural areas where it is more difficult to provide. To do so, it charges a 3.3% assessment fee or tax on voice calls made within the state, landlines and mobiles, which providers pay and then pass on to the user. consumption. However, funds dried up as Texans made fewer voice calls and wireless companies changed their payment methods, allocating more charges to data and not voice. According to vendors, that has resulted in an estimated $10 million shortfall in funds each month starting January of last year.

The Texas Tribune is a nonprofit, nonpartisan media organization that informs Texans – and interacts with them – on public policy, politics, government, and statewide issues.

The introductory video above is from an earlier report.

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Dais Johnston

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