Commissioners Listen to Broadband Presentation

By Will Johnson

Messenger Reporter

HOUSTON COUNTY – The Houston County Commissioners Court met on Tuesday, July 13 in a meeting that was highlighted by a presentation from Windstream concerning proposed fiber optic and broadband internet service expanding to Houston County.

The broadband discussion was timely in nature as Gov. Greg Abbott recently signed into law House Bill 5 – sponsored by State Rep. Trent Ashby State Sen. Robert Nichols – which would create a broadband office at the comptroller of public accounts to pinpoint and address areas of the state with the worst broadband capabilities.

Gov. Abbott also affixed his signature to HB 4 which provides delivery of health care services under Medicaid and other public benefit programs by using telecommunications/internet service.

On hand for the presentation were Luc Sanderson, the Windstream Director of Field Operations in Texas and Mike Hunsucker, the Vice President for State Governmental Affairs. 

Sanderson led off the discussion with an explanation of why he felt Windstream would be a good partner with Houston County as broadband/fiber optics develops more of a presence in East Texas.

“What brings us to Houston County today is there are three counties we can have the biggest impact on in Texas. Those are Houston, Trinity and Sabine Counties. We have a large footprint in all of those counties. A lot of these areas are very rural and as we get through this, we will talk about a government grant program that will really open some doors for things that are not economically feasible or cost effective for Windstream to do on our own. We need some help,” Sanderson said.

He explained the need for upgrading the technology was shown during the pandemic and also during the winter storms affecting the rural areas of East Texas. Plus, he added, it was a timeless technology.

As he continued, Sanderson indicated there were a little over 14,000 households in Houston County and those who received fiber optics service totaled 685 which were “… business locations in Crockett. There are none in Grapeland. There are none in Pennington. There are none in Kennard.”

After explaining the cost considerations, Sanderson turned the program over to Hunsucker who said, “There are a lot of federal programs coming from ARPA (American Rescue Plan Act) funding. I think Houston County got a little over $4 million. There were about $2 trillion that came out of that program with $4 million coming straight to Houston County. Like Luc said, our goal is we want to expand our fiber footprint in the county with some of this NTIA (National Telecommunications and Information Administration) grant.”

The grant Sanderson and Hunsucker were referring to is the Broadband Infrastructure Program grant, which is, “A $288 million broadband deployment program directed to partnerships between a state, or one or more political subdivisions of a state, and providers of fixed broadband service to support broadband infrastructure deployment to areas lacking broadband, especially rural areas,” according to the NTIA.

The court was unable to take any action on the matter because it was not listed as an actionable item on the agenda. The commissioners, however, did express interest in pursuing the matter and may call a special meeting to further examine the broadband/fiber optics proposal.

Hunsucker further explained the deadline for moving forward on the matter is mid-August.

In other matters brought before the court:  

  • The commissioners approved the minutes from previous meetings.
  • The payment of bills and expenses incurred by the county was approved.
  • The Houston County Treasurer’s and Compensatory Reports were received as information by the court.
  • The court approved salaries for new and/or transfer employees.
  • Rental and use agreements between the county and the Crockett Civic Center were approved for jury selection and a jury trial for the County Court-at-Law between Aug. 9-13 as well as Sept. 13-17. 
  • A rental and use agreement between the county and the Crockett Civic Center was approved for jury selection for District Court on July 13.
  • A donation in the amount of $1,200 from Roy B. Gibson was accepted by the court for improvements to CR 2126 in Precinct One.
  • A donation of 763 tons of rock (estimated value $10,685) from ETX Gas was accepted by the court for improvements to CR 3510 in Precinct Three.

Will Johnson may be contacted via e-mail at [email protected].   

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