Tina Tran is state director of AARP Texas. AARP is the nation’s largest nonprofit, nonpartisan organization dedicated to empowering people 50 and older to choose how they live as they age. With nearly 38 million members, including more than 2.3 million in Texas, AARP works to strengthen communities and advocates for what matters most to families: health security, financial stability and personal fulfillment.
State and federal leaders made significant gains in 2021 toward ensuring equitable access to high-speed internet service, also known as broadband, particularly for those who were unserved or underserved. The American Rescue Plan Act and the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act, along with Texas House Bill 5, amount to the largest bipartisan efforts we have seen in decades to fundamentally address the digital divide across Texas.
Now Texas is putting into motion a state-wide high-speed internet plan that will marshal over $500 million through a brand-new state Broadband Development Office. With the health, safety and opportunity of millions of Texans hanging in the balance, our state must get this plan right.
There is no longer any doubt about the critical importance of high-speed internet access. The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed how Texans in every part of the state without access to affordable high-speed internet are disadvantaged when it comes to combatting isolation, scheduling vaccine appointments, accessing telehealth services and much more.
High-speed internet is not a luxury, it is a necessity.
Yet AARP’s research indicates that older Americans’ access to affordable and convenient broadband connections continues to lag behind other age groups. AARP studies show that 15 percent of adults age 50+ do not have access to any type of internet and 60 percent say the cost of high-speed internet is a problem.
AARP commends Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar and his staff at the Broadband Development Office for conducting a listening tour across the state earlier this year to hear directly from Texans about their needs when it comes to high-speed internet. These voices are vital in the development of an effective broadband plan. As progress continues, AARP urges close inspection of access barriers that impede older adults’ ability to fully benefit from high-speed internet service.
Clearly what is needed now is a prioritization of broadband network deployment into unserved and underserved communities where older adults are concentrated. There needs to be a reduction in the cost of internet access for Texans, particularly those with low incomes. And efforts need to be strengthened to support building the technological skills of Texans who have, until now, been left behind.
2022 stands to be a banner year for high-speed internet in Texas. With substantial funds and a new state broadband structure in place, Texas can deliver high-speed internet service to the individuals and communities most in need.