NACOGDOCHES, Texas (KTRE) - ‘Can you hear me now?’
How many times have cell phone and internet users said that when dealing with the broadband connections, or lack of, in Deep East Texas?
Fittingly, the line was the title of a broadband virtual panel discussion presented this morning by Texas Forest Country Partnership.
Texas Forest Country Partnership’s first attempt at a virtual economic summit, ironically, was challenged by regional viewers with no or poor internet services.
Panel participant Jennifer Harris with the broadband organization ‘Connected Nation Texas’ uses a map of Texas where the majority of east and west Texas are covered in white. That white represents a lot of Texans.
“Almost a million Texans, the majority of whom are rural, without that physical connectivity to broadband,” said Harris.
And areas with service often have few subscribers. Harris explains residents may not have the skills or the device to adopt the technology.
“If you don’t have a device or the digital literacy skills you’re probably not going to adopt. And if you don’t have the physical access you are definitely not going to adopt,” explained Harris.
Deep East Texas Council of Governments president Lonnie Hunt attributes high cost to why people may not subscribe. He bases that on broadband research DETCOG has conducted over the last three years.
“The cost is basically four times more than what the people in the Dallas-Fort Worth area pay per megabit of service,” said Hunt. “They get faster service and pay less. We get slower service and pay more. But four times more. You know, we understand some things are going to be a little bit more expensive out in the country, but it shouldn’t be four times more.” Regionally, DETCOG wants to provide broadband to everyone in a 12 county region. And it must be affordable.
“I know it can be done. I now it’s achievable. And I know it is feasible. I know it is workable,” said Hunt. “I believe we have a plan that can show the rest of rural America how you can do this in a rural region.”
Regional efforts toward broadband are important because, “Texas is one only six states without a state broadband plan,” said Harris.
The formation of a state broadband council and Operation Connectivity for school children have surfaced.
Regional planners wonder why it took a pandemic to address the issue, when DETCOG is now submitting broadband grant applications.
“We started this process about 2 1/2 years ago before anybody had ever heard of COVID,” said Hunt.
DETCOG’S broadband study can be found at https://www.detcog.gov/broadband
Maps on broadband connections, providers and other helpful information that can be specific to your zip code can be found at https://connectednation.org/texas/mapping.analysis/
And Texas Forest Country Partnership, a proponent of broadband completion for Deep East Texas can be reached at https://texasforestcountry.com/
Of course, internet connection is needed for access.