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DALLAS—A new effort to increase digital connectivity across the state was announced last week. The broad coalition of organizations across the state includes Texas 2036, the Greater Houston Partnership, Texas Rural Funders, the Texas Association of Community Schools, United Ways of Texas, Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas, Inc., Texas e-Health Alliance, Texas Association of Community Colleges, Texas PTA, The Charles Butt Foundation, Community Foundations of Texas, and the Texas Midwest Community Network.
As devastating as the coronavirus pandemic has been, the impact has been mitigated somewhat by the widespread adoption of broadband technology that allowed many to continue to work, learn, and receive medical care despite closures and restrictions on in-person gatherings.
But for those without access to broadband – including millions of Texans – or the necessary digital skills, the pandemic has exposed growing inequity. Best estimates indicate, nearly 1 million Texas currently lack adequate infrastructure to support broadband service, largely in rural areas and low-income urban neighborhoods.
Even in areas where broadband service is more readily available, adoption rates remain low. Texas ranks 38th among states for the percentage of households subscribing to broadband internet; and among Texas’ peer states, like New York and California, with whom we compete with for jobs and corporate relocations, Texas ranks dead last.
To close the gap and improve access to broadband internet statewide, Digital Texas is engaging legislators, private industry, nonprofits, and state agencies to develop state policy that provides equitable access to reliable and affordable broadband internet.
Here are comments about why Texas needs to take action to ensure digital connectivity from members of Digital Texas’ Steering Committee:
- “Broadband internet is the Farm to Market road of the 21st-century,” explains Texas 2036 CEO Margaret Spellings. “It is critical infrastructure that is essential to providing access to education, health care, and economic opportunity. By engaging state officials and industry leaders, Digital Texas seeks to secure an equitable and prosperous future for all Texans.”
- “Rural communities that want to connect to broadband do not always have the infrastructure to do so, leaving them excluded from the digital world and its many opportunities,” explains Texas Rural Funders’ Ellen Ray. “Leaders across the state are working to organize their communities around broadband access, and have demonstrated time and time again the dogged determination we Texans pride ourselves on. With a state broadband plan and dedicated staff, Texas can amplify the good work already being done at the local level and take great strides toward getting all Texans connected.”
- “Over the next 15 years, nearly 10 million people are expected to call Texas home,” said Greater Houston Partnership CEO Bob Harvey. “This growth will provide a wealth of opportunity, and broadband access will play a critical role in maximizing our potential.”
- “Whether a student lives in an apartment in central Dallas or on a farm in the panhandle, they should have access to the tools they need to be successful,” adds Suzie Kennon of the Texas PTA.
- The impacts of this inequity are real and immediate. “If they had internet, the children would spend as much time watching the spinning circle waiting for it to connect as they would learning,” says Barry Haenisch, Executive Director of the Texas Association of Community Schools. “Lack of high-speed internet in many rural areas of Texas is potentially crippling for rural children.”
- “Public education is really the cornerstone of our economy,” adds The Charles Butt Foundation’s Kate Rogers. “Our public school teachers and administrators must have the tools necessary to educate our kids, and in today’s world that simply can’t be done without broadband internet.”
- College students also require access to reliable broadband internet. “The vast majority of courses are already completely online,” notes William Serrata with the Texas Association of Community Colleges. “Even after this pandemic, we’re going to continue online tools more and more integrated into instruction. If people can’t access the instruction, they’re going to fall behind, and ultimately become less likely to earn a post-secondary credential.”
- And the digital divide affects more than just students. “Digital inclusion is economic inclusion,” explains Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas Inc.’s Vice President of Community Investment, Jordana Barton. “This is an issue that intersects with every area of community development and the social determinants of health as the digital divide is a structural marketplace issue that, if overcome, will create opportunities for upward mobility for our most vulnerable communities and a vibrant and inclusive Texas economy.”
- The link between digital inclusion and healthcare has become especially clear during the current pandemic. “Telemedicine and e-health are integral parts of our healthcare system,” adds Nora Belcher, Executive Director of the Texas e-Health Alliance. “Broadband internet is key to people to actively participate in managing their healthcare in the 21st-century.”
- “Small towns have become more appealing to our urban neighbors”, says Kathy Keane, Executive Director at Texas Midwest Community Network. “And there’s a lot of energy in our small towns. Without high speed broadband access, though, we’re being held back from achieving at our full potential.”
- “The digital divide,” says Community Foundations of Texas Executive Director George Tang, “falls squarely at the intersection of education, health, and economic opportunity. You cannot address any one of these areas without addressing digital inclusion.”
- “It doesn’t help disadvantaged communities to have access to broadband infrastructure if they can’t afford to subscribe,” adds Adrianna Cuellar Rojas, President and CEO of United Ways of Texas. “Failing to address digital inclusion exacerbates existing economic and education inequalities that are felt for future generations.”
To learn more about Digital Texas, visit our website at www.digitaltexas.org.