Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

State officials want rural residents’ feedback on expanding high-speed internet access

Telecommunications companies across the state are vying for grant funding to expand broadband services.
Travis Bubenik
Marfa Public Radio
Telecommunications companies across the state are vying for grant funding to expand broadband services.

Texas is set to get billions of dollars in federal funding to expand high-speed internet access and affordability across the state - and officials are trying to decide how to best spend that money.

This year, state lawmakers also approved new funding for the effort.

With all this money on the table, the Texas Broadband Development Office is gathering feedback from rural communities about what exactly they need when it comes to better internet access.

For more on the effort, Marfa Public Radio spoke with Molly Weiner, an advocate with the group Connected Nation, which has been helping the state connect with rural communities.

Texans can submit comments on the digital opportunity plan through Aug. 31 at the Texas Broadband Development Office website.

Interview Highlights

On where Texas is getting the money to improve broadband access

The money that’s on the table for improving rural broadband in Texas is coming from a variety of different federal and state sources and amounts to what Weiner called a “generational opportunity.”

“The biggest set of funding is coming from the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act that the U.S. Congress passed in 2021,” Weiner said.

Texas is set to receive more than $3.3 billion from that law for broadband improvements.

Weiner said that funding is aimed at making sure that “every single household in the state of Texas has the ability to connect to internet at fast and reliable speeds.”

On what constitutes “high-speed” and “affordable” internet

According to Weiner, part of the state’s effort to speak directly with rural communities about their internet needs is aimed at better defining what “high-speed” and “affordable” internet really looks like.

“But, the federal government has set some benchmarks, in terms of especially the speeds,” Weiner said. “The goal of this federal funding program specifically is to make sure that everyone can access the internet at at least a speed of 100 megabits per second download, 20 megabits per second upload.”

Those speeds typically allow a household to have multiple devices using the internet simultaneously for things like business, remote work and education, Weiner said.

On what advocates have been hearing from rural communities

Weiner’s group and representatives from the state have been traveling across Texas and speaking directly with communities about their broadband needs. She said that rural Texans in particular have expressed a desire for better internet for things like bolstering local business opportunities and improving access to telehealth services.

“We’ve really heard a lot about the desire for connectivity to really help support and sustain rural communities,” she said. “Then we’ve heard also about the challenges that there are in making that happen.”

On the timeline for the “digital opportunity plan”

After officials finish gathering feedback from communities this month, the finalized plan for broadband expansion across the state should be released later this fall, Weiner said.

“From there, it’s really going to lay a road map for the next several years in the state,” she said.

Texans will be able to offer further comments on the plan itself once it’s released, Weiner said.

On efforts to make sure the broadband funding is distributed equitably

Part of the stated mission of the federal broadband funding program is to make sure “every single household” is able to have a reliable internet connection, Weiner said.

“The program prioritizes any household across the state that has no internet connection, or a very, very slow internet connection,” she said. “The goal of the program is universal access.”

Travis Bubenik is All Things Considered Host and Big Bend Reporter at Marfa Public Radio.