The Clay County, TX Broadband Team has completed its community technology assessment. The results of the assessment can be found by clicking the symbol for each of the sections below. The Recommended Actions section offers suggestions that the community can implement to improve the broadband and technology ecosystem at a local level. It should be noted that the assessment was conducted during the global COVID-19 pandemic. This worldwide event likely impacted many of the metrics included in this assessment.
Broadband access refers to the infrastructure that enables a high-speed internet connection. There are two primary types of broadband connections: fixed and mobile.
Fixed broadband is delivered to a user via several technology platforms including cable, digital subscriber line (DSL) over phone lines, fiber optics, and fixed wireless. Fixed broadband is designed for stationary use at a fixed location such as a home, business, or institution. From one location, however, fixed broadband service is often broadcast as a Wi-Fi network to connect nearby devices.
The following map shows where broadband is available in the community.
Broadband is infrastructure of opportunity, or as Clay County Ag Extension Agent Bill Holcombe said, “When you increase somebody’s ability to communicate, to learn, you open up their world for them.”
A community with 100% high-speed internet is better positioned to attract and retain businesses, offer its residents better outcomes in health care, education, and public safety, as well as drive innovation in business and agriculture.
As Clay County Judge Mike Campbell reminded us at our kick-off event, Henrietta was not intended to be the county seat of Clay County, but when the railroad came, industry followed. Likewise, where there is high-speed internet, industry will follow. Ensuring that Clay County is 100% served by high-speed internet will ensure its residents are not left behind and well-positioned for the technology needs of the future.
Clay County should make bridging the Digital Divide a priority and is well-positioned to meet this goal. According to CN Texas July 2021 data, 99.6% of Clay County households meet the current FCC definition of broadband (25 Mbps download speed / 3 Mbps upload speed), while 81.3% of the county has speeds of 100 Mbps download and 10 Mbps upload. Additionally, all but a small part of the unconnected areas are those where Connect America Fund Phase Two (CAF II) and Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) federal funds have already been allocated (see resource section for more information). Based on community discussions with internet service providers (ISPs) working in the area, expansion plans are already underway to connect almost all of the remaining unserved areas. Of 4,319 households in Clay County, 0.4%, or roughly 17 households, are unserved by the minimum broadband speed. By maintaining good relations with service providers, keeping open communication and understanding the obstacles they face, helping to identify areas of opportunity for expansion, and investing in adoption and literacy programs for residents, Clay County can create an environment where providers want to do business and where residents reap the benefits.
Ensure every household, business, nonprofit, farm, and ranch in Clay County has access to high-speed internet that meets their needs.
Action 1: Clay County should make broadband a priority by making an official commitment: submit a proclamation into record that Clay County is committed to bringing high-speed internet to all residents.
Timeline: Set a goal for 100% internet coverage and make an official proclamation within three months.
Responsible parties: County Judge, Commissioners Court, and the Clay County Community Broadband team:
Judge Mike Campbell, Clay County Judge
David Hedges, Petrolia CISD Superintendent
Sunny Mitchell, Bellevue ISD Technology Coordinator
Dr. David Greer, Physician
Lloyd McCauley, PC Net
Bill Holcombe, Clay County Extension Agent, Texas A&M AgriLife
Lanny Evans, Clay County Sheriff’s Office
Norma J. Ruiz-Hearne, Director Edwards Public Library
Retta Collins, Clay County Commissioner for Precinct 3
Action 2: Establish central leadership for broadband advancement in Clay County as a tool for economic advancement and enhanced quality of life.
Building on the work of the Clay County Broadband team, the County Commissioners Court should establish a permanent Broadband Committee or Council to act as advisors to the county and appoint a Broadband Liaison to lead the effort.
Establishing leadership is essential. Whether paid or volunteer, part time or full time, the Broadband Liaison will be the point of contact for broadband in the county. He or she will be the person who stays up to date on all things broadband, including new construction projects in the region, new laws, and funding opportunities. This person will also need to maintain a community presence to keep residents interested and engaged in the process.
Broadband Council advisory members should include representatives from a wide variety of community stakeholders, such as:
- Health Care: Local physicians or hospital staff
- Government: County Judge, County Commissioners, Mayor, City Council, County IT Director
- Education (K-12): Superintendents, School IT Directors
- Education (Higher Education): University, community college, trade schools or workforce training
- Public Safety: County Sheriff’s Office, Police Department, Fire and Rescue and surrounding Volunteer Fire Departments, Emergency Medical Services
- Agriculture: County Ag Agent, Leading Ag Producers
- Business: Chamber of Commerce, Economic Development
- Community At-Large: A community member who is interested in broadband
Timeline: Establish an official Broadband Council and select a countywide liaison within six months.
Responsible parties: County Judge, Commissioners Court, Clay Community Broadband Team.
Broadband Council Responsibilities should include:
- Keeping abreast of state and national broadband policy initiatives and notable broadband news: The Broadband Council should keep up to date on any publications, events, and policy briefs published by the (1) Governor’s Broadband Development Council (GBDC) and (2) Broadband Development Office (BDO), as well as monitor notable broadband developments via industry newsletters and focused research.
- Keeping the community informed of projects and progress and invite community participation to maintain community buy-in and high adoption rates: Getting community buy-in is essential to the long-term success and sustainability of community initiatives. Success of local initiatives requires community support, transparency, and engagement. Not only will this help keep the momentum going, but this will also show providers there is true interest for expanded service in the area and encourage greater investment in the region.
According to the data gathered via the survey, Clay County has a higher adoption rate than other Connected communities — 86.6% of Clay County residents subscribe to some sort of internet service in their homes, versus 81.6% in other Connected communities. This shows that Clay County residents have a high interest in technology and are perfectly suited to be high adopters. Keeping them well-informed will help them reap the benefits that technology has to offer and ensure they remain engaged broadband consumers.
The Broadband Council can help maintain community enthusiasm for expanded broadband by creating a Broadband Resources website (or a webpage on the county website) devoted to broadband resources and engaging in regular broadband communication with the community via in-person events, press releases, and social media.
Communications should explain the benefits of expanded internet for residents and businesses, along with the positive impacts that universal broadband can bring to the region. The county should host public forums to discuss its plans and offer regular community events to host technology demonstrations and educational presentations to maintain community engagement in the process and inspire residents about technology and innovation. Access to high-speed internet can bring technological innovation in any industry; the ways to create excitement are limitless.
- Maintaining open communication with area ISPs: On October 20, 2021, the Clay County Broadband team hosted an online meeting with five area Internet Service Providers (ISPs). Providers showed enthusiasm for working with Clay County, and many shared further expansion plans for the region.
The Clay County Broadband Council should strive to maintain open communication and positive relations with service providers working in the area. This should include regular check-ins with providers to: stay abreast of construction and expansion progress or changes in plans, identify any obstacles or challenges they are facing, and communicate community goals and objectives. Open communication allows for providers to better understand community needs and for communities to better understand the obstacles and barriers providers face. This understanding can encourage creative problem solving, which can lead to finding solutions through public-private partnerships. Public-private partnerships are arrangements between public entities, such as local governments, and private entities, such as service providers, to achieve a common goal. They are often, but not always, funding arrangements. Additionally, the county should strive to be an environment that is amenable to business; this means having easy-to-use websites that allow providers and vendors quick access to relevant information, as well as fostering a business environment that rewards open communication and timely resolution of concerns.
The good news is that expansion plans are already underway in Clay County. Several providers have received federal funding for broadband infrastructure deployment and buildout has begun.
The Clay County recipient of Connect America Funds (CAF) Phase II funds is AMG Technology Investment Group LLC (Nextlink), which received $184,317.50 in funding for 322 locations. Clay County recipients of Rural Digital Opportunity Funds (RDOF) funds are: AMG Technology Investment Group LLC (Nextlink), which received $1,730.20 for one location; CCO Holdings LLC (Charter), which received $387,057.60 for 1,084 locations; and Comcell Inc., which received $4,644.00 for eight locations.
Based on available data and preliminary CAF Phase II and RDOF expansion plans, Clay County is poised to bridge the Digital Divide soon. To ensure this happens, the Clay County Broadband Council have a clear understanding of where broadband build-out is planned, when completion is expected, what technology and speeds will be available, and what areas will be left out, so that it can focus efforts and maintain momentum.
Action 3: Incorporate broadband development and planning in local budgets.
Budgets express values, and putting broadband resources in the budget would show the county’s commitment to broadband. Broadband expansion will bring added benefits to the community and its residents, including employment opportunities, innovation, and quality of life improvements. Under advisement from the Broadband Liaison and Broadband Council, the county should commit funds to expand broadband access, adoption, and use, setting aside resources that reflect the broadband priorities of the community.
In March 2021, the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA) established the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF) to provide state, local, and Tribal governments with the resources needed to respond to the Coronavirus pandemic and its economic effects. Clay County is the recipient of $2,033,869.00 in ARPA funds. The SLFRF provides substantial flexibility for each government to meet local needs — including support for households, small businesses, impacted industries, essential workers, and the communities hardest hit by the crisis. These funds also can be used to make necessary investments in water, sewer, or broadband infrastructure. Additionally, new guidance for ARPA funds use was released in January 2022. The Final Rule for the program can be found here https://home.treasury.gov/policy-issues/coronavirus/assistance-for-state-local-and-tribal-governments/state-and-local-fiscal-recovery-funds and listed in the resources below. Per the U.S. Department of the Treasury, the ARPA Final Rule takes effect on April 1, 2022, but recipients can choose to take advantage of its flexibilities and simplifications now.
NOTE: Communities should be aware that, although an unprecedented level of funds will now be available for broadband, taking the time for thoughtful broadband planning and long-term strategy will remain crucial for communities to use this once-in-a-generation opportunity to its greatest impact.
Action 4: The county should consider a Broadband Field Validation Study.
CN Texas January 2022 data state that 99.6% of Clay County households are served at 25/3 Mbps, and 81.3% are served at 100 Mbps, but survey responses show that average download speeds in Clay County are only 30.57 Mbps. Field validation would allow the county to identify where broadband infrastructure exists by evaluating actual assets in the field. This may include locating, identifying, and documenting targeted wireline platforms such as digital subscriber line (DSL), hybrid fiber coaxial (HFC), fiber-to-the-home (FTTH), middle-mile fiber optic transport lines, and fixed wireless transmit locations, mapping infrastructure assets, and provider service boundaries. Such work would allow the community to accurately assess and map known broadband speeds and delivery platforms. Connected Nation, or another third-party telecom engineering company, could be hired to do this work.
If the results of the validation show gaps or areas of concern, then asset mapping or an asset inventory could be warranted. In asset mapping, communities identify public and private assets and infrastructure that can assist in broadband expansion. These can include obvious assets such as fiber, conduit and towers, but can also include less obvious assets such as rooftops, rights-of-way, and strategic properties. This is especially important when thinking of the last remaining unserved sections of the county and identifying what assets the county or community at large can put toward the effort of connecting them. This will allow the county to identify new opportunities.
* CAF Phase II
The Connect America Fund (CAF) Phase II is a federal funding program for service providers that auctioned off census blocks for internet deployment in 2018. One hundred three bidders won $1.49 billion over 10 years to provide fixed broadband and voice services to over 700,000 locations in 45 states. To be eligible, a census block could not have been served with voice and broadband of at least 10/1 Mbps.
Winning providers have six years to fulfill deployment:
- 40% of the required number of locations in a state by the end of third year of support
- An additional 20% in each subsequent year
- 100% by the end of the sixth year of support
- The exact deployment schedule is determined by the carriers themselves, not the FCC.(Source: https://www.fcc.gov/auction/903)
*RDOF Phase I
The Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) Phase I is a federal funding program for service providers that auctioned off census blocks for internet deployment in 2020. One hundred eighty bidders won $9.2 billion over 10 years to provide broadband to 5.2 million locations in 49 states and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. To be eligible, a census block could not have had service of at least 25/3 Mbps (based on Form 477 data), or have a provider already committed to providing service via the CAF II auction, the USDA ReConnect program, or state-specific programs.
Winning providers have eight years to fulfill deployment:
- 40% of the required number of locations in a state by the end of third year of support and an additional 20% by the end of the fourth and fifth years of support
- By the end of year six, revised location totals will be announced:
- If there are fewer locations than originally estimated by the cost model, support recipients must serve the revised number of locations by end of year six. If there are more locations than originally estimated by the cost model, support recipients must serve the cost model-estimated number of locations by the end of year six and must serve the remainder of locations by the end of year eight
- All support recipients must serve locations newly built after the revised location total but before the end of year eight upon reasonable request
- The exact deployment schedule is determined by the carriers themselves, not the FCC (Source: https://www.fcc.gov/auction/904).
Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds, County Allocation
Current Broadband Funding
BroadbandUSA: Federal Funding Guide
Guide to Federal Broadband Funding Opportunities in the U.S.
Texas Broadband Providers by County
Smart Cities Readiness Guide
Becoming Broadband Ready TOOLKIT
Municipal Boards: Best Practices for Adoption Technology
City of Memphis: Broadband Project Manager, Senior
Letter: Do your part on broadband
The Anatomy of a Community Broadband Manager
TARA Leadership: Rondella Hawkins
Libraries are community hubs. They are sources of information, education, and community engagement. Libraries are perfectly suited to be locations of information and technology services. Further, Edwards Public Library has space for classes, and Library Director Norma J. Ruiz-Hearne has an interest in offering more digital resources to the community.
Empower Edwards Public Library to bridge digital literacy gaps in Clay County by offering digital literacy training for residents, businesses, and public officials.
Action 1: Improve internet speeds at Edwards Public Library.
When the internet is down, patrons cannot check out books, research the catalog, or access resources online, which are all fundamental to library service. The library’s response to the Connected Nation survey indicated that its internet service is unreliable. The library should research and pursue the best available internet access in the area. Libraries, like schools, need to have the fastest speeds available because they serve as public computing centers where those without internet at home can go to get online and apply for jobs, where students come to study, and where many people are online at the same time.
The library should investigate its use of E-rate and determine if it is maximizing the funds that are available to support internet services, and/or explore what opportunities might exist to bring greater services to the library through the E-rate program.
Timeline: Internet speeds should be improved immediately.
Action 2: The library should offer digital literacy classes to residents to improve workforce readiness and computer literacy.
According to the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD), one-third of working-age Americans lack basic digital skills. One in six are unable to use email, search the internet, or use other basic online tools (Ezell 2021).
In answering digital literacy capacity questions, Clay County survey respondents selected answers in the “I know a little” category to the “I am comfortable with this” category for a wide range of technological skills, despite consistently ranking below other Connected communities in all skill gradings. This shows residents could benefit from brushing up on digital literacy across the board.
Timeline: The library should begin digital literacy training to residents within six months.
Action 3: Edwards Public Library should offer website and social media classes for local businesses and public officials.
Twenty-eight percent of Clay County survey respondents say they NEVER interact with public safety websites or online, 15.6% NEVER interact with local government websites, 12.7% NEVER interact with county government online, and 43.4 % NEVER interact with K-12 schools online. Worse, 51.7% NEVER interact with the library website. However, over 68% of respondents indicated that they interact online with non-local businesses daily or at least once a week, and 73.8% interact with local businesses daily or weekly. This means they are going online and interacting, just not with the county’s public-facing websites. These are all areas of opportunity.
Classes should encourage local businesses and public officials to develop websites, to update and maintain them regularly, and to use social media, e-commerce, and other advanced broadband and technology applications more often and with greater community impact. Websites that are not frequently updated, or that do not have engaging or relevant content, are not widely used.
Timeline: The library should begin digital literacy training to businesses and public officials within six months.
Many free resources exist for digital literacy, such as:
- Texas State Library and Archives Commission Digital Literacy Training Toolkit, which is a free, online training course with lesson plans, workbooks, activity worksheets, and resources covering computer basics, email, Microsoft applications, resume writing and more. This valuable tool is available to all Texans who want to develop and improve their computer skills. https://www.tsl.texas.gov/ld/ael/landltoolkit
- American Library Association — PLA, AT&T team up to bring digital literacy training to families:
- Digital Learn Curriculum: Public Library Association
- Drive: A Connected Nation Initiative: https://www.driveyourlearning.org/
- AARP Joins with Nonprofit to Teach Tech to Older Adults: AARP
- A compiled list of resources from Connected Nation: https://connectednation.org/resources/resources-solutions-for-at-home-connectivity
Ezell, Stephen. “Assessing the State of Digital Skills in the U.S. Economy.” Information Technology & Innovation Foundation, November 29, 2021 https://itif.org/publications/2021/11/29/assessing-state-digital-skills-us-economy?utm_campaign=Newsletters&utm_source=sendgrid&utm_medium=email
Action 4: The library and Broadband Council should share resources of available affordability programs.
More than two out of five Clay County households that lack internet (42.2%) cite affordability as the barrier. The average monthly cost of internet service in Clay County is $70.08, which is slightly less than in other Connected communities. Information about subsidy programs should be shared widely with the community on the County Broadband Resources website, at the library, on social media, and throughout the community.
The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) (https://www.fcc.gov/affordable-connectivity-program) is a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) program that replaced the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program (EBB), which was created in response to the coronavirus pandemic to help low-income households pay for internet service and connected devices.
Eligible households can receive up to a $30/month discount on internet service (up to a $75/month discount if on qualifying Tribal lands) and a one-time discount of up to $100 for a laptop, tablet, or desktop computer (with a co-payment of more than $10 but less than $50). Only one monthly service discount and one device discount are allowed per household. To receive the connected device discount, consumers need to enroll in the ACP with a participating provider that offers connected devices (check here for participating providers https://www.fcc.gov/affordable-connectivity-program-providers). The internet company will provide the discount to the consumer.
Participating providers in Clay County are AT&T, Comcell Community Telephone, Nextlink, and North Texas Telephone Co. Providers may offer other low-cost programs, such as Charter Communications, which has a low-cost option ($17.99 per month) available for households with a student on free lunches, or seniors. The Clay County Broadband Council should ask area providers if they participate in the ACP or other programs and keep information updated on the County Broadband Resources website.
Timeline: The Broadband Council should share information about affordability programs immediately.
Action 5: The county, residents, local businesses, and other community entities should support the library with volunteers and funding, as well as help the library promote their services, including training classes, to the community.
The library is a go-to resource for the entire community, especially residents who lack internet access at home or lack higher digital skills. People come to the library for all of their digital literacy needs, to use the public computers, and to ask for assistance submitting job applications, filing taxes, signing up for services online, communicating with friends and family, etc. To continue to offer these vital services, the library needs the entire community’s help.
Timeline: The community should be supportive of the library immediately and begin to promote library services as soon as services are offered or available.
Agriculture is an essential industry, most often located in rural communities that struggle to access high-speed internet. Where agricultural producers have access to high-speed internet, technology has transformed the way they work, bringing better outcomes, higher yields, and greater efficiency. Technology will play a large role in agriculture of the future, in how we feed ourselves, protect our natural resources, and conserve our land. The Clay County Broadband Council should coordinate with the agricultural community to better understand the technology needs of Clay County farmers and ranchers to contribute to their success.
Improve internet speeds and digital literacy for Clay County agricultural producers while championing innovation.
Action 1: Identify unserved areas specific to agriculture to ensure agricultural land is equally prioritized along with residential customers.
Internet buildout often follows population density, but agricultural producers need internet, too. Clay County has over 850 farms and ranches, and 98% of those are family owned. USDA data from 2017 show that only 76% have internet access. Connected Nation survey results put that number lower, at only 66.6% of respondents in the agriculture sector with internet. Among the respondents without internet service, 43% say they do not have it because it is not available, and 29% say it is too expensive. The average internet speed that agricultural producers receive is 14.9 Mbps, well below the FCC broadband standard of 25 Mbps, and below the average of other Connected communities. Efforts to bring 100% high-speed internet coverage to Clay County will greatly benefit the farm and ranch community. The Broadband Council could hire a geoanalytics mapping firm to create a map that overlays internet speed data with residential and agricultural land to identify areas of opportunity and to make sure agriculture producing land is not left out.
Action 2: Partner with the Ag Extension office to encourage technology adoption by offering ag-specific technology training and digital literacy.
The small family farmers and ranchers of Clay County would greatly benefit from technology education and resources tailor-made for agriculture. The Connected Nation survey received a large response rate from ag producers, indicating high interest in broadband adoption and use. Respondents indicated a high level of interest in agriculture technology applications, such as Farm Management Information Systems, Telematic Equipment Monitoring, Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (Drones), Remote Integrated Displays, Nutrient Management Systems, and Geo Fencing, among others.
Depending on community interest and participation, education resources could be as simple as sharing links and information about innovations in ag technology on the County Broadband Resources website or through social media channels. The Ag Extension office could also partner with the library to offer ag-specific digital literacy training classes. If the community shows interest, they could invite ag technology speakers to present workshops or seminars to local farmers and ranchers. More ambitious plans could include hosting a Clay County Agriculture Technology Summit that could attract participation from outside the region. There is no doubt that more connectivity and more technology will only benefit family farms and ranches. Clay County Broadband Council should continue to keep the ag sector in mind with all future planning.
Timeline: Ag-sector classes should begin within six months.
Responsible Parties: Clay County Broadband Council, Edwards Public Library and Clay County AgriLife Extension office.
US Dept. of Agriculture https://www.usda.gov/
USDA National Institute of Food and Agriculture – resources https://nifa.usda.gov/resources
The Texas A&M AgriLife Extension Service https://agrilifeextension.tamu.edu/
Texas Rural Leadership Program https://agrilifeextension.tamu.edu/programs/texas-rural-leadership-program/
The Farm Journal: Ag Web, technology https://www.agweb.com/technology
Free online Agriculture course from universities across the globe https://www.classcentral.com/subject/agriculture
Ku, Linly. “New Agriculture Technology in Modern Farming.” Plug and Play, October 06, 2021. https://www.plugandplaytechcenter.com/resources/new-agriculture-technology-modern-farming/
Ensure Clay County utilizes all available resources to improve quality of life and economic outcomes through technology.
Action 1: Pursue grant(s) for advancement of local community development using broadband technologies (e.g., workforce development, telehealth, digital literacy, etc.).
In conjunction with the countywide Connected Engagement, Clay County has been allocated funding to pursue applicable grant opportunities. For specifics, please contact your Broadband Solutions Manager.