The Hardin County 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 includes steps 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.
This project was funded by the Economic Development Administration (EDA) Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act.
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.
Between February and March 2022, Hardin County partnered with Connected Nation Texas to better understand the community’s broadband landscape. The survey results and Connected Nation maps reveal two important themes: first, internet access is available in the majority of Hardin County and second, residents want faster broadband speeds. Current maps show 87.31% of the county has access to 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload. The average download speed is 37.88 Mbps. With this data, Hardin County is positioned to tackle broadband needs and promote economic growth for residents, businesses, agriculture, education, and health care. Developing public-private partnerships (P3) with trusted providers, offering alternatives to improve customer service, providing digital literacy learning opportunities, and taking advantage of federal and state funding as it becomes available will position Hardin County to increase digital opportunities for all its residents.
Federal, state, and local governments agree that broadband expansion and services are essential for the economic development of rural communities.
Action 1 – After working with Judge McDaniel and Hardin County for several months, the county should dedicate a person, broadband team, or regional representative to ensure its interests and needs are being met and to manage growth and use resources wisely. Duties should include:
- Deploying Requests for Quotes (RFQs) for services related to broadband deployment and maintenance of owned broadband infrastructure.
- Providing monthly updates to the County Judge and Commissioners Court regarding activities surrounding broadband.
- Establishing relationships with current providers and open communication with potential new providers.
- Establishing relationships with Hardin County’s legislators and/or their staff overseeing broadband grants, subsidies, and/or loans that are available through the federal and state governments. Below are links to each legislator’s office:
- U.S. Representative Brian Babin
- State Senator Robert Nichols
- State Representative James White
- Effective January 2023, State Representative Ernest Bailes
Action 2 – Determine Hardin County’s broadband priorities, such as:
- Enhanced services
- Equity and service for all
- Public control over infrastructure
- Provider competition
- Risk avoidance and redundancy, etc.
Action 3 – Examine models of public-private partnerships:
Public-private partnerships (P3s) take many forms, limited only by the imagination and legal framework in which the municipality operates.
A public-private partnership should not be simply seen as a method of financing. The strength of these partnerships is that each party brings something important to the table that the other doesn’t have or can’t easily acquire. Hardin County can offer infrastructure (publicly owned building rooftops, light poles, towers, and other vertical assets for mounting infrastructure) for the deployment of a network, as well as committed anchor tenants, and possible funding sources. Private-sector partners bring network building and operations experience.
- Model 1: Private Investment, Public Facilitation: Make available public assets, share geographic information and systems data, and streamline permitting and inspection processes. Offer economic development incentives to attract private broadband investment.
- Model 2: Private Execution, Public Funding: Identify revenue streams that can be directed to a private partner. Funding may include appropriated payments from the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds established by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, the Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund, Reconnect Loan and Grant Program, Emergency Connectivity Fund, and several others here. New streams of revenue are becoming available from the FCC and/or state government.
- Model 3: Shared Investment and Risk: Evaluate how to best use assets to attract private investment, evaluate funding new assets to attract private investment, evaluate building new broadband assets for businesses and/or homes that can be leased to private ISPs.
Action 4 – Deploy an RFQ for an inventory of community broadband assets. This will help the county understand its assets and how they can be utilized by private broadband companies that are currently working in the county.
Assets may include anchor tenants, antennas, building rooftops, light poles, and towers the cities or county may own. Understanding the barriers service providers face (discussed in Goal 3) can help establish the best P3. Current service providers in Hardin County include:
- AT&T Southwest
- Charter Communications (Spectrum)
- Eastex Telephone Cooperative Inc.
- Frontier Communications
- Rise Broadband
- Cable One Inc. – Sparklight
The County Judge and Commissioners Court would be responsible for establishing the broadband office or team and future P3 contracts.
Feedback from broadband providers, businesses, residents, and anchor institutions would be valuable.
Developing a broadband team and/or hiring a broadband director should be done within three months of approving this plan.
Hardin County should understand available funding programs and be ready to apply for them. The federal government continues to release new opportunities for funding at a rapid pace, and the Texas Broadband Development Office is not far behind.
Action 1 – Remain current on broadband funding opportunities. Below is a list of current and future funding opportunities:
|Program Name||Responsible Entity||Features||Eligibility||How to Apply|
|Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds (SLFRF)||U.S. Department of Treasury manages the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021 (ARPA)||The funds provide flexibility in eligible broadband investments to address challenges with access, affordability, and reliability. Note - these funds may be used for other things.||State, local, and tribal governments: Texas has received over $15B from SLFRF||Information may be found here|
|Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund (CCPF)||U.S. Department of Treasury manages the ARPA||Carry out projects that directly enable work, education, and health monitoring, including remote options, in response to the pandemic.||State of Texas. The funding is allocated through the Broadband Development Office. Texas has until September 24, 2022, to submit its plan on how it intends to use this fund. Texas has received $500M+||
N/A for local governments:
Additional information may be found here.
|E-Rate||Universal Service Administrative Co.||
Eligible schools and libraries may receive discounts on telecommunications, telecommunications services, and Internet access, as well as internal connections, managed internal broadband services and basic maintenance of internal connections.
See Goal 6 for additional information on E-Rate for Hardin County schools.
|Schools and libraries||Information may be found here|
|National Digital Navigator Corps||National Digital Inclusion Alliance||Creates a National Digital Navigator Corps in rural and tribal areas. The grant places a digital navigator in 18 communities to connect individuals with the technological resources that are most helpful to communities.||When the application opens, established community organizations. $10M grant funded by Google.||Information may be found here|
|Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) Program||National Telecommunications Information Administration (NTIA) under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA)||Broadband deployment in unserved/underserved areas, broadband adoption, connecting anchor institutions, etc.||Texas will receive at least $100M from BEAD and likely much more. A total of $42.45B will be allocated to states. These dollars are not expected until 2023 at the earliest.||Information may be found here|
|Digital Equity Act (DEA) Grant Programs||National Telecommunications Information Administration (NTIA) under the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA)||
Digital Equity Act State Planning Grants: $60M to states for developing State Digital Equity Plans
State Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program: $1.44B to states for implementing State Digital Equity Plans
Digital Equity Competitive Grant Program: $1.25B to grantees for digital inclusion activities
The state of Texas is eligible for the Digital Equity Act and the State Digital Equity Capacity Grant Program.
Entities eligible for the Digital Equity Competitive Grant Program include: the state of Texas, political subdivisions, agency, or instrumentality of a state; tribal governments; nonprofit entities; community anchor institutions; local educational agencies; and entities that carry out workforce development programs.
|Information may be found here|
|Middle Mile Broadband Infrastructure Program||NTIA established under IIJA||A $1B program to fund the construction, improvement, or acquisition of middle-mile infrastructure.||Eligible applicants include states, political subdivisions, tribal governments, technology companies, electric utilities, utility cooperatives, public utility districts, telecommunications companies, telecommunications cooperatives, nonprofit foundations, nonprofit corporations, nonprofit institutions, nonprofit associations, regional planning councils, native entities, or economic development authorities.||Information may be found here|
|ReConnect Loan and Grant Program||U.S. Department of Agriculture||Encourages the expansion of broadband services to rural areas by awarding grants and low-interest loans to eligible broadband service providers in areas without sufficient access to broadband.||States, local governments, or any agency, subdivision, instrumentality, or political subdivision; a territory or possession of the United States; an Indian tribe; nonprofit entities: for-profit corporations; limited liability companies; cooperative or mutual organizations||Current round closed in March 2022. Broadband teams should watch out for the next round of funding.|
This is not a comprehensive list, and opportunities may change frequently.
Action 2 – Hire or contract with an experienced grant writer who is familiar with federal and state grant programs to help Hardin County apply for funding. There may be opportunities to partner with local universities, neighboring counties, or other state offices. Using the services of an experienced grant writer can head off delays in funding or prevent applications from being excluded from consideration. Lamar University is based in Beaumont County but serves Hardin County communities and could share a grant writer. Also, South East Texas Regional Planning Commission (SETRPC) works with Orange, Jefferson, Jasper, and Hardin counties and could house a grant writer if each county shares expenses. Bob Dickinson, Director of Transportation & Environmental Resources with SETRPC, could help arrange the collaboration.
Local broadband director, broadband team, or regional advocate, County Commissioners, and County Judge.
ISPs are more likely to engage in a community that is easy to work with as a partner. Eliminating red tape can be inviting for new providers and speed up deployment of broadband. The Hardin County survey states 66.1% of households that do not subscribe to home internet service cite a lack of available service is their main reason for not subscribing. The survey also shows that 43.2% of households that subscribe to mobile internet service use mobile devices or smartphones as their primary way to connect to the internet at home or use their phones to connect other household devices to the internet. Although the Rural Development Opportunity Fund (RDOF) will bring new infrastructure, it will not eliminate all barriers to close the Digital Divide and provide competition.
Action 1 – Establish a relationship with the RDOF winner, Charter Communications (Spectrum), and all local providers. Set up meetings with each company’s representative and discuss plans for future expansion, barriers to expansion, and associated costs. Connected Nation can provide a list of questions to ask the providers to better understand their offerings. Some questions may include:
- Do you offer plans without data caps?
- Are the speeds you offer guaranteed or “best effort?”
- Do you participate in the Affordable Connectivity Program?
- Are you willing to participate in a public-private-partnership?
Note: Judge McDaniel, along with several other County Judges, met with Ed Serna of Charter Communications (Spectrum) about plans to use its RDOF award. Mr. Serna advised that Charter plans to do all approved work inside Hardin County, but there still will be gaps that Judge McDaniel will need to address. The broadband team, once established, should host a second meeting with Charter Communications to address more specific concerns the county may have, such as making sure underserved and unserved areas are connected and ways it can support faster buildout of planned work.
Action 2 – Create or update county and cities’ websites to instruct internet service providers how to do business in their community, remove barriers, and streamline processes. Hardin County is ahead of others when it comes to making permit applications available online, including a “development permit application,” but there is nothing specific for broadband operators. The Hardin County website is a good place to include all vendor information and electronic forms vendors can download, including local “dig-once policies.” A dig-once policy may require county/public works to coordinate with providers to install fiber or conduit whenever ground is broken on a public right-of-way.
The broadband director, a broadband team, a regional advocate, and county and cities’ IT directors should collaborate to include all important information on the websites. The County Judge and Commissioners should set local polices with input from the broadband director or broadband team. The county broadband director or team should meet with local providers to discuss offerings of their services. Providers in Hardin County include:
- AT&T Southwest
- Charter Communications (Spectrum)
- Eastex Telephone Cooperative Inc.
- Frontier Communications
- Rise Broadband
- Cable One Inc. – Sparklight
County meetings with providers should be scheduled within three months of this action plan.
There is no doubt libraries will continue to play an important role for digital equity and digital literacy in their communities. Therefore, libraries must increase their offerings for free public Wi-Fi and free digital learning tools. As stated in Goal 2, the NDIA is offering the National Digital Navigator Corps grant to train a digital navigator in rural communities. Libraries in Hardin County are eligible to apply for this grant, as they are an important anchor institution in the community. The grant will support the hiring of the community-based digital navigator alongside programmatic and technical support. More information may be found here.
Action 1 – Hardin County should review the use of digital resources, social media, and the community’s awareness of these resources, among all libraries in the county.
Two library surveys were completed, but responses provided little information about digital offerings. The pandemic reinforced the importance of communities’ local libraries; therefore, a comprehensive evaluation of their offerings and services should be completed. Having enough public computers and online digital training for the population brings better digital equity and literacy in the community. The county has four main libraries: Kountze Public Library, Lumberton Public Library, Alma M. Carpenter Public Library, and Silsbee Public Library.
Action 2 – Develop a strategy to support and improve local libraries’ digital resources and their online presence. It is important to inform the community about the availability of public Wi-Fi at local libraries. Increase the libraries’ digital presence in the community by more frequent use of social media, electronic distribution of library surveys, development of instructional videos for upload to YouTube, and by livestreaming library events. Also, increasing the libraries’ visibility in the communities helps promote digital literacy. Offering digital literacy skills in English, Spanish, and Vietnamese can attract more patrons to the libraries. The U.S. Census states more than 94% of residents speak English, but small populations in the area also speak Spanish and Vietnamese. Offering skills classes in multiple languages can help increase broadband adoption, allowing for further inclusion in the digital economy.
Action 3 – Consider a marketing strategy for building awareness of the library's digital presence. Work with community partners to spread the word about the library and the various ways residents can digitally interact. Develop outreach materials that reach critical groups in the community, such as families with children, senior citizens, low-income residents, Hispanic and Latino populations, Vietnamese populations, and others. Churches are an important outreach partner, as well as chambers of commerce and other philanthropic partners. Specific partners could include Kountze Chamber of Commerce, Sour Lake Chamber of Commerce, Lumberton Chamber of Commerce, and Silsbee Chamber of Commerce & Visitor Center.
The broadband director, broadband team, and librarians can review marketing strategies to promote the libraries activities and services. Chambers, churches, and community organizations can help by marketing to their members. The public libraries in Hardin County include Kountze Public Library, Lumberton Public Library, Silsbee Public Library, Alma M. Carpenter Public Library in Sour Lake.
A review of libraries’ services should happen within the first three months of this plan’s acceptance.
Drive your learning – a Connected Nation Initiative
Telehealth information from Connected Nation
Public Library Association Digital Learn Curriculum
Three organizations that offer both English and Spanish open-source resources online:
Broadband adoption is critical for increasing the digital capacity of a community. It is essential for empowering communities and individuals. Broadband adoption not only refers to a subscription to a service provider, but it also refers to the daily use of the internet. It requires basic skills and access to a personal device that enables an individual to accomplish basic tasks. The leading barriers to broadband adoption, in areas where access is not an issue, are affordability, lack of digital skills, and lack of awareness. Therefore, it is imperative for project plans to reflect programs that can help overcome barriers to adoption.
In the household survey, about 21% of households that do not have internet stated that cost was their primary barrier. Internet fees that are above 2% of monthly income are a cost burden. The cost barrier can be further be explained by the poverty rate in the county (12%).
Increase the adoption and use of broadband and related technologies by the residents of Hardin County.
Action 1 – Promote programs that help residents overcome the affordability barrier to broadband adoption. The county should work with community leaders and institutions to publicly promote programs and opportunities designed to reduce the cost of broadband service. This can be done by sending notices out with the water bill, posting notices in the newspaper or in monthly school newsletters, discussing programs at Commissioners’ Court or city hall meetings, or advertising affordability programs at frequently visited community buildings and businesses.
Below are some programs and resources that could be promoted to residents:
- A resource to locate affordable internet service or computers: Using online resources, Hardin County residents can identify local and national providers who offer special, low-cost services for vulnerable populations, older adults, and low-income families with children. Such resources include EveryoneOn, which helps residents locate low-cost internet services and affordable computers by ZIP code and need based on their participation in assistance programs.
- Information about low-cost internet services offered by providers: In Hardin County, AT&T Southwest offers the Access from AT&T program for $10 per month or less, based on the maximum speed available at the address, with speeds up to 25Mbps. Charter (Spectrum) offers Spectrum Internet Assist for $17.99 per month for up to 30 Mbps. This is subject to household eligibility and service availability at a specific address.
- State and federal low-cost programs: There are two critical programs that offer discounts for broadband to eligible households:
- Lifeline Program: This is a government assistance program run by the Public Utility Commission of Texas that provides a discount to qualifying low-income customers who subscribe to voice telephone service or broadband internet access service. The monthly discount for qualifying low-income customers may be up to $12.75 ($3.50 state discount and $9.25 federal Lifeline discount.) depending on the services and eligibility. Lifeline service is non-transferable and is limited to one discount per household.
- The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP): This program is run by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) to help low-income households pay for internet service and connected devices like a laptop or tablet. To find out which providers are offering this service, please click here. The providers offering ACP discounts in Hardin County include some providers listed on the CN service map: AT&T Southwest, Charter (Spectrum), Sparklight, and T-Mobile.
Affordable Internet Services Available in Hardin County
|Provider||Program Name||Cost and Features||Eligibility||How to Apply|
|AT&T||Access from AT&T||
$10/month or less based on the maximum speed available at the address, with speeds up to 25Mbps
Households with families on Supplemental Nutritional Access Program (SNAP)
Families on the National School Lunch and Head Start Programs
Households with income at or below 135% of the federal poverty guidelines
|For more information, click here, or call (855) 220-5211 (English) or (855) 220-5225 (Spanish)|
|Charter (Spectrum)||Spectrum Internet Assist||
$17.99 per month
No data caps, free modem, and free Internet Security Suite protection
|At least one person in the applying household must participate in the National School Lunch Program (NSLP), Community Eligibility Provision (CEP) of the NSLP, or receive Supplemental Security Income (for applicants age 65+ only)||For more information, click here, or call (844) 525-1574|
Free 100GB of internet per year for 5 years
Free hotspot with free shipping
Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP)
Temporary Assistance for Needy Families (TANF)
Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations (FDPIR)
Community Eligibility Provision (CEP)
Foster youth, migrant homeless, or runaway youth
|State and Federal Governments||Lifeline||Up to $12.75 discount for broadband service from participating providers ($3.50 state discount and $9.25 federal discount)||
At least one person in the household who receives:
Households with income based at or below 150% and 135% of the federal poverty guidelines for the state and federal discounts, respectively
|Apply online or download the application package and send it by mail|
|Federal Government||Affordable Connectivity Program||
Up to a $30/month discount on internet service
Up to a $75/month discount for household on qualifying tribal lands
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)
An income at or below 200% or less than the federal poverty guidelines
If you or your child or dependent participate in certain government assistance programs such as SNAP, Medicaid, WIC, Pell Grants, SSI, Veterans Pension, Free and Reduced Lunch Program, WIC, Medicaid, or other programs
If you or your child or dependent already receives a Lifeline benefit
Contact a participating broadband provider
Print an application:
To enable digital learning in every classroom every day, the FCC recommends 1 Mbps internet service per student. In reviewing E-Rate data and internet data for Hardin County schools, it is apparent that different school districts within the county are paying substantially different rates for internet services.
Action 1 – Review the services each school district receives and the associated cost per child on www.connectk12.org. Compare individual school district costs with those of neighboring districts. For example:
|School district||Service per student||Cost per month||Recommended service per student|
|Lumberton ISD||550 kbps (kilobits per second)||$2,968||1 Mbps (Megabit per second)|
|Hardin-Jefferson ISD||470 kbps||$3,570||1 Mbps|
Neither of the two school districts listed is at the recommended digital learning speed of 1 Mbps per student, but Hardin-Jefferson ISD is paying more.
Action 2 – With this information in hand, schools should negotiate with internet providers and request additional bids when contracts are up for renewal. Schools may have assets to share with a provider to help decrease the cost and increase the speeds per student.
Action 3 – Use free resources provided by TEA (Texas Education Agency) to help schools navigate the E-Rate program.
The superintendents of each school district, along with the IT directors, and boards of trustees, need to understand E-Rate pricing and verify their school districts are receiving the best pricing. In many cases, the local Educational Service Centers (ESCs) negotiate prices on behalf of districts and can be helpful, but each district should verify it is getting the best price for its schools. In some cases, local providers may offer better discounts than E-Rate pricing.
Broadband options are changing rapidly, so school IT directors, superintendents, and boards of trustees should review E-Rate contracts during the renewal process.
Web resource for schools provided by Connected Nation
Universal Service Administrative Co. E-Rate website
Texas Education Agency website