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Advocates, Community Leaders, and Philanthropic Partners Are Working to Change Connectivity Outcomes in Texas

States have played a significant role in supporting communities as they work to build out new networks and upgrade existing broadband infrastructure. Many states use a state broadband offices to centralize efforts. Until the Texas Legislature passed House Bill 5, Texas was one of the few states that lacked a statewide broadband plan. 

New legislation will improve broadband access and adoption in urban and rural communities alike. Nonprofits, public interest advocates, community leaders, and philanthropic partners were working behind the scenes to make broadband a legislative priority. 

During Next Century Cities’ 2021 Virtual Conference, Dr. Kelty Garbee of the Texas Rural Funders moderated a discussion with Kassandra Huhn of the Borderplex Alliance and Lonnie Hunt of the Deep East Texas Council of Governments. The conversation highlighted how communities in Deep East Texas, an eleven county region covering 9,413 square miles, and El Paso-Juarez, the Borderplex region between Mexico and the United States, have forged new partnerships, determined broadband needs, and pursued ways to connect their communities.

Specifically, Hunt highlighted that proving the need for broadband in their community was important long before the pandemic. He noted, “[Y]ou can’t assume that people will see the need and understand the need in the same way that you do.” Hunt also emphasized the benefits that broadband could have on the socio-economic outcomes that the people of Deep East Texas could attain with access to broadband. 

“We’re a historically depressed region, high unemployment, high poverty, in just about every socio-economic index, we rank low. We’ve seen ourselves falling farther and farther behind. . . As far as economic statistics and various other statistics, broadband is key to turning that around. We won’t catch up with the rest of Texas and the nation overnight, but with broadband, we can start to gradually narrow that gap.” 

According to Hunt, having a statewide broadband plan will ultimately make it easier for overlooked Deep East Texas Communities to get much-needed resources. 

Similarly, Huhn expounded on the connectivity challenges that are unique to the Borderplex region. Inaccuracies in the Federal Communications Commission’s maps are an ongoing obstacle. Huhn noted that the Borderplex Alliance must first challenge FCC maps by showing an area is truly unserved before it can apply for funding. Working with the County of El Paso and the University of Texas, Borderplex is collecting the information to complete a feasibility study and marketplace report. 

Another challenge faced by Borderplex is ensuring that residents find out about broadband  resources that are currently available to them. “Hispanic culture is very influenced by relationships and we work with trusted individuals to share information and resources with their communities on digital opportunities” stated Huhn. That has a direct impact on participation in programs such as Lifeline of the Emergency Broadband Benefit.  

Both speakers agreed, the type of broadband solutions that their communities need will happen overnight. The fundamental goal is to ensure that every has reliable and affordable broadband in addition to the tools to benefit from high-speed technology. These are long term projects that require community education and organizing to maximize opportunities. 

You can watch the entire discussion here

Follow Lonnie Hunt on Twitter here

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