The following was published by the DailyTrib.com on August 25, 2020
Amid a pandemic, high-speed internet at home has become a necessity for work and school, but many Burnet County residents still lack access. A simple, 10-minute survey could help connect every household.
Connected Nation Texas, an independent organization committed to ensuring every Texan has broadband internet access, is surveying residents to compile data for local and state leaders to address the digital divide. A lack of high-speed internet in communities has been shown to hamper economic growth, educational opportunity, and health care access.
“We’re currently conducting a study in Burnet County to really understand on a deeper level how people use their broadband,” said Jennifer Harris, state program director for Connected Nation Texas. “A unique feature of our survey is that it helps us identify specific areas of that county that have insufficient connectivity so that we can target solutions to close those gaps. After a structured evaluation of this assessment, we’ll then develop appropriate action plans and projects to improve our broadband environment most effectively.”
The survey is online. Those without home access can use the free Wi-Fi or computers at local libraries.
The survey is divided into several categories: household, business, agriculture, health, higher education, K-12, libraries and organizations, public safety, and government. Those taking the survey should pick which category or categories best fit them.
When people were forced to work and learn from home after the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Harris said it emphasized what Connected Nation had been saying all along: Residential fixed broadband is crucial.
The Federal Communications Commission recognizes high-speed, or broadband, internet service as one that offers a download speed of at least 25 megabits per second and an upload speed of 3 Mbps.
“Broadband is important for every aspect of life,” Harris said. “It improves your quality of life. The folks who took it for granted realize how much more important it is. Much of Texas still isn’t connected.”
Texas ranks 37th out of the 50 states in broadband subscriptions, Harris said. And out of a population of 48,155 in Burnet County, an estimated 6,000 residents don’t have home broadband.
By Connected Nation Texas’ calculations, 88 percent of Burnet County households could have a home broadband download time of 25 Mbps and an upload time of 3 Mbps “if they choose to subscribe,” Harris said.
“The high 80s and 90s (percentage) make it sound really good,” Harris said. “Ninety percent of homes have broadband available regardless of if they could pay or not. But there are 2,059 homes that do not have access. Think of how many kids that is who can’t do their school work or people who can’t do telemedicine. That’s a lot of folks.”
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