Living in West Texas, I can assure you that there are too many parts of our state where high-speed internet access, or broadband, is unavailable.
Some 40 million Americans lack reliable online access, cutting them off from work, doctors, school and shopping. And it’s a crisis strongly felt in Texas, where more than nine of every 10 households that lack access to broadband are rural. The recent winter storm in Texas exposed the urgency of the issue.
Through my volunteerism with AARP Texas, which has been engaged in the issue of broadband access since well before the pandemic, I’ve heard the stories of Texans who are struggling without the vital service. Some of these folks participated in a 2018 listening tour, like the woman who lives outside Crawford who can’t get reliable broadband to run her business. And there’s the high-tech teleworker in Bastrop who shared how he purchased a home in a new subdivision only to discover later that it’s out of the reach of broadband coverage.
It just shouldn’t be so hard for so many people to reap the advantages of the digital age. After all, broadband access can help all Texans — and certainly older folks — to live independently in their homes and communities. It can help beat social isolation, a contributor to poor health and early deaths. And as seen during the COVID-19 pandemic, high-speed internet access is needed to learn, stay healthy, stave off loneliness and keep businesses running.
For all these reasons and more, Gov. Greg Abbott made the right call in identifying broadband access as an emergency item for the Legislature this session. It’s important that lawmakers continue the forward momentum on this priority.
For certain, there’s no dispute that resolving the problem of access and affordability will take a good deal of resources and time. But that’s why there’s no reason to delay taking initial steps toward progress.
I proudly serve on the Governor’s Broadband Development Council. The council is making a great start. We’ve issued a report that lays out the challenges ahead and makes recommendations, including a call for a statewide plan and a broadband office to serve in a coordinating role.
The governor recently wrote legislators to say that “to further expand access to high-speed internet and cultivate prosperity for the state, Texas should support the creation of a state broadband plan, authorize a broadband office within the Economic Development and Tourism Office and eliminate barriers to provide greater access to broadband services.
“Expanding access to high-speed internet will provide opportunities and improve the quality of life for all Texans, especially those in rural and low-income communities,” he added.
As a lifelong West Texan and AARP Texas volunteer leader, I commend Gov. Abbott for advancing the issue of broadband access. At AARP, we join him in recommending that the 87th Legislature continue to invest in broadband initiatives that will help expand access to high-speed internet in unserved places in our great state.