CORPUS CHRISTI, Texas — Since COVID-19 hit, the world is even more connected – held together by the internet.
In Texas' Coastal Bend, an area known for crop production, the need for broadband internet is especially crucial.
When put simply, broadband means high-speed internet. By Federal Communications Commission standards, high-speed broadband downloads are at 25 megabits per second, with uploads at three megabits per second.
At that minimum rate, families can use three to five devices at the same time, but not all of them can be on Zoom, for example, or Netflix.
About 98 percent of Texans are connected to that minimum broadband speed, according to Connected Nation Texas – an initiative backed by an organization called Texas Rural Funders.
“It’s a need and it’s a struggle, for many," said Corpus Christi social worker Heather Tijerina. "Our Internet signal was not very strong, so I would have to prioritize. If my kid had a class, I couldn't log on to anything for work.”
Tijerina lives in a small city with a population of 10,000.
“I live in Ingleside, so we really only have two options over there,” she said about the internet providers available in her area. “You kind of get cornered in the market because there’s not a lot of places to go. We have a resource desert here.”
Powering the land, according to the U.S. president now means recognizing broadband internet as "the new electricity".
“Each state will receive $100 million,” said U.S. Commerce Secretary Gina Raimondo during a White House briefing in November.
Raimondo discussed the administration’s plan to expand broadband across the country, and the time it will take to roll out.
“Not everybody is going to have broadband a year from now,” Raimondo said.
Connected Nation released new Texas mapping. The Coastal Bend is mostly covered with a green shading that represents higher speeds of internet service. When zoomed out to show the rest of the state, the map gets spotty.
"Crucial to the future of Texas" is how Gov. Greg Abbott’s spokesperson describes broadband expansion in the state.
“Expanding broadband access is crucial to the future prosperity of Texas, which is why Governor Abbott made broadband expansion an emergency item and signed six broadband reform bills last session, including the appropriation of over $500 million, to expand reliable, high-speed internet for more businesses and Texans across our state – especially in our rural communities. As these reforms take shape, Governor Abbott is committed to working alongside the Legislature and the Broadband Development Office within the Comptroller’s Office to develop even more strategies to expand broadband access throughout the State of Texas.”
A press assistant from the office of the governor also sent KRIS 6 News this list of bills signed to expand broadband access in Texas:
- HB 5 established the Broadband Development Office within the Comptroller’s Office.
- SB 507 requires TxDOT to adopt rules to allow broadband-only providers to access the state right of way via permit rather than lease (lower cost).
- HB 1505 creates the framework to fund the installation of utility poles needed for the deployment of broadband services in Texas.
- HB 3853 allows electric utilities to lease their excess fiber to Internet service providers to facilitate the provision of broadband service to rural Texans.
- SB 8 allocated the entirety of ARPA Capital Project Funds ($500,475,163) for the purpose of providing funding for broadband infrastructure
- SB 632 Authorizes LCRA to provide fiber capacity or facilities for the purpose of facilitating broadband service connectivity.
There is also the problem of cost, making faster internet speeds affordable.
In May 2021, the government launched a broadband discount program. Congress later made it permanent.
The Affordable Connectivity Program gives eligible applicants at least $30 a month for a broadband subscription.
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