Texas Lawmakers Look at Easement Bill for Electric Co-ops

In the past year, communities and cooperatives in Texas have been making gallant efforts to better connect local residents and businesses with high-quality Internet access. Now, they may get a little help from the State Legislature.

Helping Co-ops

Earlier in this session, Senator Robert Nichols introduced SB 14, a bill that will allow electric cooperatives that hold easements obtained for electric service infrastructure the ability to extend those easements to broadband infrastructure. The bill replicates the FIBRE Act, a 2017 Indiana bill that opened up possibilities for rural cooperatives in that state.

Nichols told KLTV that he has high hopes for his bill:

“I’m getting a lot of support because all of the other plans for broadband that have been proposed use subsidies,” said Nichols. “This one asks the state for nothing, it asks the federal government for nothing.”

He also told KLTV that the Governor’s office has expressed support for the proposal.

Read the text of the bill.

Similar to Indiana’s FIBRE Act, the extension of the easement applies to those that already exist. By enacting making the change, cooperatives that already have infrastructure in place will save time in deploying fiber optic networks because they won’t need to obtain a second set of easements from members who’ve already granted them for electricity infrastructure.

In addition to offering broadband to members sooner, cooperatives who are able to take advantage in the change in the law will also save financially. Personnel costs, filing, and administrative fees add up when a co-op must obtain multiple, sometimes dozens or hundreds, of legal easements. Occasionally, a property owner doesn’t consent to an easement right away. This change in the law will prevent hang-ups in deployment due to uncooperative property owners that can jeopardize a project.

Back Home Again in Indiana

Several Indian electric cooperatives have announced Fiber-to-the-Home (FTTH) deployments since the FIBRE Act took effect. Jackson County Rural Electric Membership Corporation, South Central Indiana REMC, and Orange County REMC have all decided to either deploy new networks or expand existing FTTH infrastructure to reach new rural areas.

We brought you the story of Texas’s Taylor Electric Cooperative, which has been deploying fiber in the Abilene region. They described their investment and incremental approach as a “natural fit” in order to deliver the services their members want.

In the past few years, local towns in Texas have also shown more interest in pursuing local self-reliance to improve Internet access option. When the District Court ruled that Mont Belvieu had the right, as a "home rule" community, to bond for, develop, and offer broadband to the general public, they created MBLink.

Since then, Lampasas has started looking into open access infrastructure; they are fed up with poor treatment from incumbent AT&t and ready to work with other ISPs. As a “general powers” city, Lampasas would need to change their charter to become a “home rule” city, if they wanted to follow in Mont Belvieu’s footsteps to create a broadband utility. Nevertheless, Lampasas plans to build the infrastructure on which private sector ISPs can offer Internet access to businesses and residents.

Co-op Capability

More than ever, rural electric cooperatives are taking the initiative and answering demands from members to offer the next utility — broadband. With personnel, infrastructure, and know-how already in place, it makes sense. Adjustments in state law, such as SB 14, can help rural citizens obtain high-quality Internet access by removing barriers that complicate broadband deployment for cooperatives.