EducationHealthcareIssuesStatewide News80 Texas Legislators Push Governor Abbott for Rural Broadband Expansion Plan

In tandem with the federal government's rural broadband expansion program, Texas legislators have advised Governor Abbott to facilitate the effort with state-crafted policies.
September 14, 2020
A bevy of Texas legislators sent a joint letter to Governor Greg Abbott on Monday advocating for a concerted plan to expand broadband internet service in rural areas.

Led by state Rep. Trent Ashby (R-Lufkin) and state Sen. Robert Nichols (R-Jacksonville), the letter points to remote schooling as one specific area of concern for rural students without high-speed internet.

Since the pandemic has driven jobs and services previously conducted in-person to virtual proceedings, the emphasis placed on internet connection has risen exponentially from highs experienced even before the pandemic.

One focal point has been the expansion within healthcare of telemedicine — something already widely used by direct care physicians — especially within the traditional hospital model.

Because of the infrastructural hurdles and market deficiencies, Texas’ rural communities have not experienced as wide an array of broadband selection as in urban or suburban areas. According to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), an area is “underserved” if it lacks 25 megabytes per second (Mbps) broadband speed.

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This is tracked by census block, which is still imprecise as a census block is counted as served if one person within it has 25 Mbps.

Map from Connected Nation Texas, depicts county by county access to 25 Mbps internet.

The FCC has designed a $20 billion plan to expand the necessary infrastructure into underserved areas.

The cadre of Texas lawmakers propose a handful of objectives to meet this goal by the state, including:

  • Setting clear goals and objectives within a specific timeline to provide a baseline
  • Analysis of the state’s broadband needs and potential policy roadblocks
  • Conjoining already established regional planning efforts with broadband expansion efforts
  • Facilitating partnerships between various industries to enable the expansion
  • Identifying existing assets and institutions that can further support broadband expansion

One specific proposal the letter identifies is using federal monies from its delineated Coronavirus Relief Fund to finance the program.

“The time is now for Texas to join the other 44 states in planning the development of this critical 21st century infrastructure,” the letter emphasizes.

According to Connected Nation Texas, an organization whose mission is to expand broadband access specifically to underserved areas, 3.7 percent of the state’s population is underserved (without 25 Mbps internet), which amounts to 333,000 households.

A large majority of that total comes from rural communities — to the tune of 297,000 underserved households — which amounts to 10 percent of Texas’ rural households.

As telecommuting and other societal transitions become more popular, and sometimes necessary, the ability to purchase higher-speed internet remains a luxury in some parts of Texas.

These Texas lawmakers believe the state must supplement the federal government’s efforts in expanding broadband to those who may have been left behind.


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Brad Johnson

Brad Johnson is a senior reporter for The Texan and an Ohio native who graduated from the University of Cincinnati in 2017. He is an avid sports fan who most enjoys watching his favorite teams continue their title drought throughout his cognizant lifetime. In his free time, you may find Brad quoting Monty Python productions and trying to calculate the airspeed velocity of an unladen swallow.