Texas Designates Underserved Areas to Target in Broadband Plans – State of Reform

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The Texas Broadband Development Office (TBDO), a grant program under the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts, released its 2022 report Texas Broadband Plan Friday.

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Nearly 2.8 million Texas households or 7 million people lack broadband access, according to the US Census Bureau. Texas currently ranks 31st in the nation for internet coverage, speed, and availability. According to Broadband Now.

TBDO will provide $5 million in financial grants, low-interest loans and other financial incentives to Internet service providers who are committed to expanding access to broadband services in underserved areas. Currently, 568 internet service providers operate in the state.

Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar entered into a state listening tour last month in 12 communities to better understand the nuanced challenges of internet access.

The tour held panel discussions, town hall-style discussions, interviews and surveys with officials and residents across the state to identify ways to meet the state’s internet-related needs.

TBDO outlined the following areas of the digital divide that needed to be addressed across the state’s 12 regions:

  • Digital Literacy
  • Devices
  • Affordability
  • Cover
  • Quality

A recent study by Tufts University shows that the availability of broadband was key to dealing with the pandemic. He estimates that a 1% increase in broadband access in the United States results in a 0.1% (about 19 people per 100,000 people) drop in COVID mortality.

One of the regions designated as having high needs with limited access was the Southern region.

“The Southern region also has the highest share of households with limited availability of devices to connect to the internet,” TBDO pointed out in its plan. “43% (323,000) do not have a laptop or desktop to connect to the Internet, and nearly 17% (129,000) have no computing device. These are the highest rates in the state, higher than state rates of 25% and 9%, respectively.

The Southern Region, which encompasses Uvalde County, is one of the largest regions in Texas by population (2.4 million) and land area (28 counties), but also has the lowest median household income. lowest in the entire state. Nearly half (46%) of all households in the region report an annual income of less than $50,000, making internet access difficult.

TBDO investments are among major state infrastructure projects designated for federal funding. The Biden administration’s $1.2 trillion infrastructure plan will provide an additional $100 million federal investment to build broadband infrastructure and expand accessibility in Texas through 2026. Funds through ARPA will support an additional $500 million to support these nationwide efforts the state.

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