The fresh $3.3 billion for Texas will complement the $1.5 billion in state money that Texas lawmakers recently earmarked to improve broadband access. Photo via Getty Images

Texas is receiving over $3.3 billion in federal funding — more than any other state — to expand broadband internet access the state.

Much of that money undoubtedly will be pumped into the Houston metro area, where a little over 180,000 (about 7 percent) of the more than 2.6 million households have no internet access.

The National Telecommunications and Information Administration announced June 26 that the 50 states plus the District of Columbia and U.S. territories will share nearly $42.5 billion in broadband internet funding allocated under the federal Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act. The law went on the books in 2021.

“This is a watershed moment for millions of people across America who lack access to a high-speed Internet connection. Access to Internet service is necessary for work, education, healthcare, and more,” Alan Davidson, assistant secretary of commerce for communication and information, says in a news release.

Previously, the federal government had announced more than $20 billion in separate broadband funding.

The fresh $3.3 billion for Texas will complement the $1.5 billion in state money that Texas lawmakers recently earmarked to improve broadband access. This November, Texans will vote on a constitutional amendment that would set up a state-run fund for the $1.5 billion.

All of the money will be geared toward bringing Texas’ internet infrastructure up to date. State data shows 7 million Texans in 2.8 million households lack broadband internet access.

The Federal Communications Commission says broadband internet access delivers a minimum download speed of 25 Mbps and minimum upload speed of 3 Mbps. Those are considered adequate speeds for a family of three or a business with five to 10 employees.

“Although that’s enough speed for basic internet use, it’s actually a bit slow by today’s standards, since many internet service providers offer 100Mbps speeds as basic-level plans,” HighSpeedInternet.com points out.

The Texas Broadband Development Office, which oversees the state’s broadband internet program, says high-speed internet access “is increasingly seen as a requirement for modern life.” State Comptroller Glenn Hegar, whose agency oversees the office, has said it will take $10 billion to deliver full broadband internet access in Texas.

The Broadband Development Office will oversee distribution of the broadband funding in Texas. It plans to start accepting grant applications in 2024.

Hegar says Texas received more broadband funding than any other state “because the challenge facing our state is unique.”

“Texas has a large population with a significant share of unserved areas spread over a vast and geographically diverse landscape. The bipartisan legislation that appropriated these funds recognized the importance of giving states the flexibility to meet the needs of their unique populations,” Hegar says in a news release.

U.S. Rep. Lizzie Fletcher, a Houston Democrat, has proposed legislation (the Broadband Incentives for Communities Act) that would help state and local governments take advantage of the infusion of broadband cash. She says these governments need money — in the form of federal grants — to hire and train employees, install software, and make other improvements so they can handle an expected flood of requests for broadband funding.

“Many of the communities that need broadband access the most have the fewest resources to implement these projects. We must ensure that they are not left behind while we make this monumental investment in the country’s broadband infrastructure,” Fletcher wrote in a June 14 letter to U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo.

The White House aims to connect every American to affordable high-speed internet service by 2030. Today, an estimated 24 million Americans lack access to high-speed internet. Millions more deal with limited or unreliable service.

“High-speed Internet isn’t a luxury anymore; it’s become an absolute necessity,” President Joe Biden said at a White House event announcing the $42.5 billion in federal broadband funding.

“I’ve gotten letters and emails from across the country from people who are thrilled that after so many years of waiting, they’re finally going to get high-speed Internet,” Biden added.

Beth White is the new chair of the National Capital Planning Commission. Photo courtesy of Houston Parks Board

President Joe Biden appoints Houston green space guru to lofty national post

new gig

Aprominent and nationally acclaimed Houston parks presence has just received a hefty national appointment. President Joe Biden has named Beth White, Houston Parks Board president and CEO, the chair of the National Capital Planning Commission (NCPC), the organization announced.

The NCPC, established by Congress in 1924, is the federal government’s central planning agency for the National Capital Region. The commission provides overall guidance related to federal land and buildings in the region. Functions include reviewing the design of federal and local projects, overseeing long-range planning for future development, and monitoring capital investment by federal agencies.

Fittingly, White was initially appointed to NCPC as the at-large presidential commissioner in January 2012, per a press release. She was reappointed for another six-year term in 2016. Most recently, White served as the commission’s vice-chair.

“I’m honored to chair the National Capital Planning Commission and work with my fellow commissioners to build and sustain a livable, resilient capital region and advance the Biden Administration’s critical priorities around sustainability, equity, and innovation,” White said in a statement.

Before joining Houston Parks Board in 2016, White served as the director of the Chicago Region Office of The Trust for Public Land, where she spearheaded development of The 606 public park and was instrumental in establishing Hackmatack Wildlife Refuge.

Renowned in the Windy City, she also was managing director of communications and policy for the Chicago Housing Authority; chief of staff for the Chicago Transit Authority’s Chicago Transit Board; and assistant commissioner for the City of Chicago’s Department of Planning and Development. She was the founding executive director of Friends of the Chicago River, and currently serves on the Advisory Board for Urban Land Institute Houston.

The graduate of Northwestern and Loyola universities most recently received the Houston Business Journal’s 2021 Most Admired CEO award, per her bio.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

The Texas high-speed rail just got a boost. Photo courtesy of JR Central

Texas to get millions from infrastructure bill for environmental fixes

green for green

On November 5, the U.S. House of Representatives passed the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, legislation that's anticipated to produce hundreds of thousands of union jobs and transform the U.S. transportation system, with investments in passenger rail, roads, and bridges.

A release from Environment Texas, a grass-roots environmental group, shares some of the many positive effects the package is anticipated to have on Texas' transportation and power infrastructure, and its stores of clean water.

Key environmental provisions include:

  • Lead pipes removal. There are an estimated 270,000 lead service lines still in Texas. Texas is expected to receive $2.9 billion over five years. The state had 6000 sewage overflows in 2019, leading the American Society of Civil Engineers to give Texas' wastewater infrastructure a grade of D.
  • Building electric vehicle charging stations. Texas needs an estimated 12,400 level-2 charging stations and 1,720 level-3 "fast charging stations" by 2030 to meet projected demand. The state will receive $408 million over five years and can apply for $2.5 billion in grant funding.
  • Improve electric grid and power infrastructure. This is obviously something Texas sorely needs, after the great freeze in February 2021 when transmission constraints contributed to blackouts across the state, leading to curtailments of wind and solar energy.
  • New passenger and freight rail. Amtrak has proposed new rail service connecting Houston to Dallas, Fort Worth, Austin, San Antonio, while Texas Central is working to build high speed rail between Houston and Dallas. According to Environment Texas, these projects could potentially benefit from the new funding.
  • New public transit. The bill dedicates $39 billion to new public transit projects, described as the largest investment in public transit in history. Texas stands to receive $3.3 billion over five years, with likely recipients to include Houston's MetroNext and Austin's Project Connect.
  • Environmental remediation. Texas has 55 superfund sites, 32 abandoned mines, and 783,000 unplugged oil and gas wells. Oy.
  • More zero- and low-emission buses. At least 13 school districts in Texas have expressed interest in purchasing electric buses. Nine transit agencies in Texas have already, or plan to, purchase electric buses.

The legislature is still working on the Build Back Better Act, a budget reconciliation bill with clean energy tax incentives and other investments that would help the U.S. stall climate change and clean up our environment.

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This article originally ran on CultureMap.

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Houston family's $20M donation drives neurodegeneration research

big impact

Neurodegeneration is one of the cruelest ways to age, but one Houston family is sharing its wealth to invigorate research with the goal of eradicating diseases like Alzheimer’s.

This month, Laurence Belfer announced that his family, led by oil tycoon Robert Belfer, had donated an additional $20 million to the Belfer Neurodegeneration Consortium, a multi-institutional initiative that targets the study and treatment of Alzheimer’s disease.

This latest sum brings the family’s donations to BNDC to $53.5 million over a little more than a decade. The Belfer family’s recent donation will be matched by institutional philanthropic efforts, meaning BNDC will actually be $40 million richer.

BNDC was formed in 2012 to help scientists gain stronger awareness of neurodegenerative disease biology and its potential treatments. It incorporates not only The University of Texas MD Anderson Cancer Center, but also Baylor College of Medicine, Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai.

It is the BNDC’s lofty objective to develop five new drugs for Alzheimer’s disease and related disorders over the next 10 years, with two treatments to demonstrate clinical efficacy.

“Our goal is ambitious, but having access to the vast clinical trial expertise at MD Anderson ensures our therapeutics can improve the lives of patients everywhere,” BNDC Executive Director Jim Ray says in a press release. “The key elements for success are in place: a powerful research model, a winning collaborative team and a robust translational pipeline, all in the right place at the right time.”

It may seem out of place that this research is happening at MD Anderson, but scientists are delving into the intersection between cancer and neurological disease through the hospital’s Cancer Neuroscience Program.

“Since the consortium was formed, we have made tremendous progress in our understanding of the molecular and genetic basis of neurodegenerative diseases and in translating those findings into effective targeted drugs and diagnostics for patients,” Ray continues. “Yet, we still have more work to do. Alzheimer's disease is already the most expensive disease in the United States. As our population continues to age, addressing quality-of-life issues and other challenges of treating and living with age-associated diseases must become a priority.”

And for the magnanimous Belfer family, it already is.

3 Houston innovators to know this week

who's who

Editor's note: Every week, I introduce you to a handful of Houston innovators to know recently making headlines with news of innovative technology, investment activity, and more. This week's batch includes a podcast with the founder of a new venture firm, a former astronaut and recent award recipient, and a health care innovator with fresh funding.

Zach Ellis, founder and managing partner of South Loop Ventures

Zach Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that South Loop Ventures plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale. Photo via LinkedIn

Houston has a lot of the right ingredients for commercialization and scaling up companies, so when Zach Ellis moved to town to stand up a venture capital firm that made investments in diverse founders, he decided to go about it in an innovative way.

South Loop Ventures, which Ellis launched two years ago, invests in pre-seed and seed-stage startups across health care, climatetech, aerospace, sports, and fintech. While the first handful of investments, which have already been made, are into Houston-based companies, Ellis explains on the Houston Innovators Podcast that the firm plans to invest in promising companies from across the country and bring them into Houston's ecosystem to grow and scale.

"Any investor wants to feel like they are looking at the best possible investment opportunities in which to deploy capital," Ellis says on the show. "So that's reason No. 1 to cast your net as widely as possible.

"At the same time, you want to give any investment that you make greatest chances of success," he continues. "The biggest factor of success outside of the team and the capital you give them, is the customers that they can call upon. In bringing targeted companies to Houston or connecting them with Houston, you introduce the opportunity for them to achieve rapid scale and work with world-class partners very efficiently." Read more.


Toby R. Hamilton, founder and CEO of Hamilton Health Box

Dr. Toby Hamilton has secured $10 million to grow his company. Photo via tmc.edu

A Houston company that is working on a value-based model for primary care has fresh funding to support its mission.

Hamilton Health Box announced the completion of a $10 million series A funding round led by 1588 Ventures with participation from Memorial Hermann Health System, Impact Ventures by Johnson & Johnson Foundation, Texas Medical Center Venture Fund, and the Sullivan Brothers.

The company, founded in 2019 by Dr. Toby R. Hamilton, will use the funding to fuel its expansion into rural areas to help assist those living in Health Professional Shortage Areas, or HPSAs. Read more.

Ellen Ochoa, former astronaut and center director at the NASA's Johnson Space Center

Ellen Ochoa was recognized for her leadership at NASA Johnson and for being the first Hispanic woman in space. Photo via NASA

Two astronauts recently received Presidential Medals of Freedom from President Joe Biden for their leadership in space.

Ellen Ochoa, the former center director and astronaut at the NASA's Johnson Space Center in Houston, and Jane Rigby, senior project scientist for NASA’s James Webb Space Telescope, were honored at the White House on May 3.

Ochoa spent 30 years with NASA, which included being the 11th director of JSC, deputy center director of JSC, and director of Flight Crew Operations. She served on the nine-day STS-56 mission aboard the space shuttle Discovery in 1993, and became the first Hispanic woman in space. She flew four more times to space with STS-66, STS-96, STS-110, and more.

“I’m so grateful for all my amazing NASA colleagues who shared my career journey with me,” Ochoa says in a NASA news release. Read more.

Houston health care institutions receive $22M to attract top recruits

coming to Hou

Houston’s Baylor College of Medicine has received a total of $12 million in grants from the Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas to attract two prominent researchers.

The two grants, which are $6 million each, are earmarked for recruitment of Thomas Milner and Radek Skoda. The Cancer Prevention & Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) announced the grants May 14.

Milner, an expert in photomedicine for surgery and diagnostics, is a professor of surgery and biomedical engineering at the Beckman Laser Institute & Medical Clinic at the University of California, Irvine and the university’s Chao Family Comprehensive Cancer Center

In 2013, Milner was named Inventor of the Year by the University of Texas at Austin. At the time, he was a professor of biomedical engineering at UT. One of his major achievements is co-development of the MasSpec Pen, a handheld device that identifies cancerous tissue within 10 seconds during surgical procedures.

Skoda is a professor of molecular medicine in the Department of Biomedicine at the University of Basel and the University Hospital Basel, both in Switzerland. He specializes in developing treatments for myeloproliferative neoplasms, which are a group of blood diseases including leukemia.

Other recruitment grants provided by the institute to Houston-area organizations are:

  • $4 million for recruitment of Susan Bullman to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. She was an assistant professor at Seattle’s Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, where she studied the connection between microbes and cancer.
  • $4 million for recruitment of Oren Rom to the University of Texas M.D. Anderson Cancer Center. Rom is an assistant professor of pathology and translational pathobiology at Louisiana State University Shreveport.
  • Nearly $2 million for recruitment of Lauren Hagler to conduct RNA cancer biology at Texas A&M University. She is a postdoctoral scholar in biochemistry at Stanford University.

The institute also awarded grants to five companies in the Houston area:

  • $4.7 million to 7 Hills Pharma for development of immunotherapies to treat cancer and prevent infectious diseases.
  • $4.5 million to Indapta Therapeutics for the Phase 1 trial of a cell therapy for treatment of multiple myeloma and non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma.
  • $2.75 million to Bectas Therapeutics for development of antibodies and biomarkers to overcome a type of resistance T-cell checkpoint therapy.
  • $2.69 million to MS Pen Technologies for development of technology that differentiates between normal tissue and cancerous tissue during surgery.
  • $2.58 million to Crossbridge Bio for development of an antibody-drug combination to treat certain solid tumors.