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The idea that internet access is a luxury has already been demolished before anyone has ever heard of COVID-19. But the pandemic — and the demands of work, school and medicine’s shift from in-person to virtual experiences — have made it impossible for state officials to ignore.
The good news is that the Texas Legislature has taken it seriously, creating an office to determine how to expand broadband access and affordability as money becomes available, starting with $500 million. federal pandemic assistance.
The bad news is that it will be at least a year before the state makes a real difference in getting broadband access to Texans who don’t have it and lowering the price for people who can’t afford it. Internet service available to them. .
Federal and state governments are working on the broadband issue, but governments may be slower than dial-up internet. And while they’re working on it, it’ll probably have to wait until this time next year to see results.
The holes in the net left Texas, like other states, exposed during the pandemic, and the gaps were apparent even before COVID-19. Pharr, Brownsville, Tyler, Harlingen and Beaumont were ranked in the top 20 the least connected cities in the United States in 2019 – the most recent year studied. Texas has more rural schools than any other state, and large parts of rural Texas have spotty, if any, internet access. Urban Texas often has broadband access that many residents can’t afford – a real problem when it’s the only way to attend classes or get to work.
Most of the money for Texas broadband expansion will come from the federal government, and most of it — an as-yet-undetermined amount — is part of the federal infrastructure bill approved in November, after lawmakers in the Texas have completed their regular and special sessions. Some adjustments to get that money flowing will likely come from the legislature itself, which won’t meet until January 2023.
In the meantime, the state has access to $500 million in federal funds through COVID-19-related grants; most of those will be available later this year, according to Jennifer Harris, Texas program director for Connected Nation, a nonprofit group promoting “broadband adoption, access and use.” throughout the state. Harris also serves as vice chairman of the Governor’s Broadband Development Council.
Lawmakers awarded the broadband to State Comptroller Glenn Hegar, who traveled the state to gather public feedback on broadband access and affordability, as well as in line Feedback. His office maps broadband rich and poor areas in the state and will likely be the office that funnels federal money coming into Texas to places that qualify.
Its broadband development office will release a report in mid-June, paving the way for broadband expansion, said Greg Conte, the director. Later in the year, they will have a detailed condition map – property by property – to show where expansion is needed. Conte, Harris and others say the state won’t know how much money it’s getting until federal officials compile maps for all the states.
Each state will receive a minimum of $100 million in federal broadband infrastructure funds, and then an additional $42.5 billion will be divided based on each state’s maps. Wild estimates by experts are that Texas will receive between $1 billion and $4 billion. These maps are like the one Hegar is working on, Harris said in a phone conversation that fell apart two or three times as she drove through one of the most sparse and least connected parts of West Texas. The conversation was a quick reminder of what it’s like to do business where communications technology is scarce.
That other pot of federal money — $500 million in pandemic relief that will be awarded at the end of this year on a project-by-project basis — will be available at the end of this year. Additionally, low-income Texans with access to broadband they cannot afford can already tap into another federal program that pays up to $30 a month for services.
Delays are frustrating, but state officials are working on it, spending money on it, trying to fix something that’s wrong. If only they could stick together more often.
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