Texas broadband bill stalled over disagreement about explicit online material

Updated: May. 13, 2021 at 6:55 PM CDT
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KILLEEN, Texas (KWTX) - House Bill 5, the far-reaching and largely uncontroversial bill that would create a statewide broadband office to award money to internet providers that expand internet access in underserved areas of Texas, has hit a snag.

State Rep. Jeff Cason, R-Bedford, offered an amendment to the bill that would require the office to prioritize internet providers that block access to pornographic material by default.

The lower chamber ultimately accepted that amendment.

However, in its version of the bill, the Senate stripped that language.

Supporters of the amendment say it is necessary to prevent children from seeing explicit material online.

“If you try and go into an adult bookstore and an adult movie theater, they’re going to check your ID and make sure you’re 18 years old, but somehow or another the internet became a huge loophole for online pornography,” Terry Schilling, the president of the American Principles Project, told KWTX.

“Right now we have a real problem, and that problem is the fact that an 11-year-old with a smartphone has access to unlimited amounts of hardcore, violent pornography, and there’s no one stopping them,” he said.

Opponents say it is not the job of internet providers to filter out pornography.

“It would essentially require internet service providers to be a decision maker on what constitutes pornographic content, which we all know is a legal standard that courts have wrestles with under the First Amendment for centuries,” state Rep. Trent Ashby, R-Lufkin, said on the floor of the House after Cason presented the amendment.

Other opponents say the amendment could unnecessarily derail a largely controversial bill.

“This is getting into the weeds as opposed to what you’re trying to do is empower an advisory group to do what we think is right when it comes to broadband access,” state Rep. Celia Israel, D-Austin, said on the floor.

Representatives from the upper and lower chambers still need to meet to hash out whether the amendment should remain or be struck before the bill can head to Gov. Greg Abbott.

Abbott designated broadband expansion as one of his emergency items this legislative session.

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