Internet expansion plans up for debate in Texas legislature
WACO, Texas (KWTX) - The pandemic pulled back the curtain on the problems people have getting online. Some rural areas struggled to access the basics, once the world went virtual last March.
Jennifer Harris, state program director for Connected Nation Texas, a non-profit group that works with broadband, said even though internet access has always been a hot topic, the pandemic increased that.
Now, the state legislature is considering some options to make internet access better across the state. The legislature is considering multiple bills this year. One would create a rural broadband service program, and the other would create a broadband office.
According to a proposed bill, the office would help coordinate state agencies and local governments as they plan and deploy broadband projects, among other tasks.
The office would also help manage funds and awards allocated for projects, and help with federal funding.
Harris said almost the entire state has broadband available, but less than 70 percent of the state is actually subscribed to broadband. She said there could be a variety of reasons why.
“If you do have it, and you can’t afford it, you don’t have a device, you don’t have the digital literacy skills,” Harris said. “All of those things and a bunch of other reasons can prevent you from subscribing, but at the end of the day, you don’t have internet.”
Doc Anderson, who represents the 56th house district in Texas, said he sees broadband as a major issue affecting Texans. Anderson said internet access is important for quality of life. He added that the plans in the legislature can help close the digital gap.
“We have to kind of develop a plan for broadband and an offer for broadband and try and work on things that allow us to bring in revenue, grants, federal funds to make sure we can match that and close a digital gap,” Anderson said.
Harris said Connected Nation Texas is working with counties throughout Texas to help collect data about internet availability. That will then be turned into a community technology action plan. Harris said those plans will be helpful if the state develops a broadband plan.
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