“Many of the counties I represent do not have a hospital or even a doctor, and broadband can help bridge the healthcare gap these rural residents face.“
Connected Nation Texas recently asked Sen. Charles Perry (R-Lubbock) and other lawmakers to share their thoughts on why expanding high-speed internet (broadband) to more Texas homes, businesses, and communities is important and explain what action is taking place at the state level to improve connectivity.
Sen. Perry shared the following in response to our questions:
Why do you believe it’s critical to connect more people to high-speed internet (broadband)?
More and more, our economy, especially in rural Texas, depends on access to broadband. To compete economically in today’s world, businesses must compete not only regionally, but also globally. Rural businesses offer a lot of value to the marketplace and have the skills to compete on this larger stage, but the challenge is access to the market. Covid-19 closures have shown us, now more than ever, online communication is critical for businesses, families, schools, and vulnerable populations.
What are you hearing from your constituents about the importance of being better connected?
Telemedicine and virtual learning are the top two reasons my constituents need broadband. Many of the counties I represent do not have a hospital or even a doctor, and broadband can help bridge the healthcare gap these rural residents face. Broadband offers an easy connection to doctors and mental health professionals. In a COVID-19 world, students cannot learn if they do not have access to broadband. The more rural residents we can connect with broadband, the better equipped our communities and our citizens will be now and in the future.
What actions are you or have you taken to try to connect more families and businesses in your district?
In 2018, my office helped host several rural broadband roundtables. We took the ideas these conversations developed regarding connecting Texans to broadband. We used the conversations to file a group of bills. We raised awareness and made some positive changes. This session, I am looking to expand on the progress made. The good news is we are not starting from scratch – many rural communities already have access to broadband due to rural providers willingness to make substantial investments. I am thankful to have quality stakeholders and providers working on this issue. I look forward to filing several key bills this legislative session.
Tell us about SB 1104 regarding the Dig Once policy. How would this approach help and why is it important to consider?
Many times, the biggest cost of bringing broadband to rural communities is the physical laying of fiber in the ground. Compared to their urban counterparts, service providers in areas with lower population density face steep startup costs. One solution we passed last session was Dig Once. The idea behind Dig Once is that broadband providers can choose to work with the Texas Department of Transportation when they are digging rights-of-way. If dirt is already moving, why not let the companies lay fiber in the ground at the same time? This allows them to serve more customers providing access in a more efficient way.
Telemedicine and especially teledentistry have been important issues for you. Share your thoughts on this technology and how you believe it can help Texas families and communities?
I was proud to file a teledentistry bill last legislative session to increase dental care access for rural citizens. Though it did not pass, we are refiling it, and the COVID-19 pandemic has made the case crystal clear that rural Texans need access to this life-saving and preventive care. Hundreds of thousands of rural residents could get better access to dental care if this bill passes. I look forward to smooth passage and broad support this session for a bill that would benefit not only those isolated by geography, but in cities as well due to Covid-19.
How has the need for school and business closures during covid-19 changed or even reinforced your ideas regarding high-speed internet access?
Closures related to Covid-19 have reinforced the need for providing broadband internet access to unserved rural residents. Many people who did not previously need access to broadband are now living in a world where broadband access is essential to basic functioning. If students cannot connect to their online classrooms, they will not graduate on time, and these short-term consequences at the scale we are talking about could be devastating to communities and the economy long-term. In addition, businesses are facing a world in which they must battle reduced capacity protocols and find new ways to connect and offer services to their customers online that they did not have to do pre-Covid-19.
What do you hope for all Texans when it comes to having access to high-speed internet?
I want us to live in a connected society where students, families, and businesses all have the resources they need at their fingertips to succeed. Rural Texans can do a lot of good for the world with our unique perspectives and skills. In order for rural Texans to contribute they must be healthy, educated and connected. Access to quality and affordable broadband in rural Texas will allow for every Texan, regardless of zip code, to maximize their potential, thus maximizing Texas’s potential. Let’s build on what we have, troubleshoot where we can, and create a world where rural Texans are just as equipped to contribute in an ever increasingly online world. It is a matter of priorities. Do we allow rural Texans to be left behind in a more and more connected world or do we connect them, benefiting everyone?
About Sen. Perry and his district:
Sen. Charles Perry, a practicing CPA from Lubbock, was elected to the Texas Senate in 2014 after serving two terms in the Texas House of Representatives. A life-long West Texan, he is a conservative – fighting for lower taxes, better schools, safer communities, and individual liberties.
Sen. Perry currently chairs the Senate Committee on Water & Rural Affairs and is Vice-Chair of the Health and Human Services Committee. He also sits on the Senate Committees for Agriculture, Criminal Justice, Finance, Redistricting, and Transportation and he co-chairs the State Water Implementation Fund for Texas (SWIFT) Advisory Committee. Gov. Abbott appointed him to the Southwestern States Water Commission and the Western States Water Council.
In the 86th Legislative Session, Sen. Perry championed a number of issues for West Texans – establishing a much needed veterinary school at Texas Tech University, increasing rural hospital funding by $100 million, authorizing the growing and processing of industrial hemp, increasing funding for the Alternatives to Abortion program, and expanding rural access to broadband.
Of all the issues he worked on this session, Sen. Perry is especially proud of the bills he passed that improve the coordination of care for medically fragile children and his bill that increases penalties for sexual assault.
Most notably, Sen. Perry authored and passed Senate Bill 8, which creates the first-ever State Flood Plan and secures funding to reinforce high hazard dams, many of which are in West Texas. This landmark legislation is a bottom-up solution to flood planning that will save lives and prevent property loss by increasing coordination between local flood authorities across the State. Learn more about Sen. Perry by clicking here.
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