By Corian Zacher
On May 2, 2022, Next Century Cities hosted a listening session in Houston and online discussing the digital divide in Texas. Participants included local and regional leaders and nonprofit partners from Texas, Maryland, Kansas, Missouri, and D.C., including Pew Charitable Trusts’ Jake Varn, who shared state policy insights from across the country.
At a time when more local leaders are focused on expanding broadband access and adoption than ever, success stories abound. For instance, one participant works for a rural county in Maryland that partnered with a fixed wireless provider around five years ago. Using innovative strategies, the county and provider have been able to help connect residents who live in remote areas. The county has also been able to assist by providing public utility staff to dig trenches for broadband infrastructure in areas where it is cost-prohibitive for companies to dig on their own.
When discussing barriers to connecting residents, several major themes emerged. Even the most well-connected communities continue seeing physical barriers that remain a challenge. Issues reported by participants included a lack of accessible middle-mile, infrastructure disparities between nearby neighborhoods, and high installation costs for people living just outside of network footprints.
Some states are beginning to tackle these challenges. For example, states like Kentucky have invested in middle-mile networks that connect anchor institutions. California’s Public Utilities Commission provides an illustration of a state entity that is investigating digital redlining, a practice that perpetuates long-standing inequities in local infrastructure. Indiana and others have implemented line extension programs to help offset high installation costs. Despite the importance of solutions like these, the benefits are not enjoyed nationwide.
You can review the transcript here.
Next Century Cities is currently drafting a case study focusing on connectivity barriers and community-centered broadband solutions in Texas. If you are interested in sharing your thoughts, please reach out to Corian Zacher at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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