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Texas expanding broadband, but focus on sustainability key

A newly established state broadband office is on the cusp of publishing a plan that will show how Texas can offer more internet access to families in need.

Students in rural and low-income neighborhoods have been without internet at home for years, but it wasn’t until the pandemic started that Texas focused on how to expand access.

Now the state’s new broadband office could potentially tap into an estimated $4 billion in federal dollars to build infrastructure in unserved areas and improve coverage elsewhere. And local districts, such as Dallas, are investing in homegrown solutions to help.

They opened campus parking lots so students could connect to the school’s internet to do classwork from their cars and even deployed buses equipped with Wi-Fi into neighborhoods access.

Dallas ISD

More than two years later, many students are still without strong or affordable internet access and school districts – including Dallas ISD – continue to develop plans to get them online.

Now more money is available to improve internet infrastructure and offer families lower cost or free internet. Texas lawmakers approved a new state broadband office, charged with developing a plan to guide future efforts. Then Congress passed the Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, making billions available for the work.

“I would consider March 2020 the turning point when certainly we had a lot more momentum,” said Jennifer Harris, who serves on Gov. Greg Abbott’s Broadband Development Council. “Night and day between February 2020 and March of 2020.”

After the pandemic that highlighted the digital divide, educators and state leaders appear to have more momentum now than ever to close it. But advocates worry one-time investments — without an eye toward sustainability — could mean the gap will eventually widen again as new infrastructure becomes outdated.

“The state of Texas will need to step up eventually to sustain the level of connectivity that all Texans have,” Harris stressed passed.

Home-grown solutions

What began as a pilot project to quickly boost school internet signals into nearby homes has become Dallas ISD’s long-term bet.

Three out of every the 10 Dallas County homes don’t have access to the 2010 standard of broadband, a recent survey revealed.Meanwhile, the district is also tapping other methods to connect students passed.

For instance, Dallas officials helped the families apply for free home internet plans through AT&T and Charter Spectrum, giving them access through June 2023. More than 8,000 applied for the plans, Israel said, but internet companies don’t always have infrastructure to serve everyone.

DISD also is connecting families via hotspots, though that is largely going by the wayside.

At one point, DISD rolled out 40,000 of the devices in the 145,000-student district. Now, those hotspots will be distributed by campuses, similar to how students check out a library book. https://mitchellhamline.edu/health-law-institute/wp-content/uploads/sites/19/formidable/8/top-gun-maverick-movie-31-may.pdf

Statewide access ambitions

Hotspots are not a long term solution for those without internet access, said Greg Conte, the director of the state’s new Broadband Development Office. https://socialprotection.org/sites/default/files/webform/123movies-top-gun-maverick-movie-2022.pdf

“If you don’t have service, those hotspots are nothing more than just paperweights,” Conte said.

Conte’s team met with residents over the past several months, gathering feedback for an overarching plan.

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