AUSTIN (KXAN) — More than $350 million in grants was awarded to the Texas Comptroller’s Office to increase access to affordable, high-speed internet to more than 150,000 homes and businesses in the state.

The U.S. Department of the Treasury announced the $363.8 million award for the Bringing Online Opportunities to Texas (BOOT) program, which is a competitive grant application program administered by the Texas Broadband Development Office (BDO) housed within the Comptroller’s office.

The funds, administered through the federal Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund, will bring service to about 152,000 locations across the state.

The BOOT program is designed to fund last mile broadband infrastructure projects in eligible areas throughout the state to facilitate Texans’ access to work, education and health care. The funding will bring reliable internet to unserved and underserved locations. Eligible areas will be determined by the Texas Broadband Development Map

According to a press release from the Comptroller’s office, the funding will support sustainable broadband infrastructure projects, awarded through a competitive grant process, that help reduce the digital divide by closing the broadband last mile gap. In closing the gap between a broadband internet service provider’s infrastructure and broadband users, the program will ultimately enable all community members to access high-quality, affordable broadband and engage in remote employment, education and health monitoring. 

“The most recent U.S. Census Bureau data indicate that almost 2.8 million Texas households — including 7 million people — lack broadband access,” Comptroller Hegar said. “Twenty-three percent of Texans are unable to attend online 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. These barriers negatively affect Texans’ quality of life and limit economic opportunities for individuals and the state overall. This grant will help my office address these critical needs and inequities by providing competitively awarded funding to projects bringing reliable broadband to unserved and underserved communities.”

The BOOT program will provide funding to qualified projects designed to connect locations that meet specific criteria, which will include the following:

  • The project is located in a designated area considered eligible by BDO for funding.
  • The project invests in capital assets designed to directly enable work, education and health monitoring.
  • The project is designed to address a critical need in the community to be served by it. 
  • The project will be designed to address a critical need that results from or was made apparent or exacerbated by the COVID-19 public health emergency.

The BOOT program will begin accepting applications for broadband expansion projects in spring 2023.