The Hays County Broadband Team has completed its community technology assessment. In addition, Connected Nation engineers performed a field validation study that included a limited outside plant audit and radio frequency sweep in select areas of the county. This analysis mapped the location of wireline network facilities to validate the existence of broadband infrastructure in targeted regions of the county.
The results of these assessments 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.
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, along with findings from the field validation study.
Establish a permanent Technology Action Team in Hays County that can serve as the go-to point of contact for questions, meetings, and projects.
From March to June 2022, the Hays County Broadband Team, in partnership with Connected Nation Texas (CNTX), collected surveys across nine community sectors to assess the connectivity, affordability, and general technology needs of Hays County residents. The local broadband team, led by Simone Corprew, County Judge Ruben Becerra, and county commissioners, brought together community stakeholders spanning education, government, health care, business, and technology. With the once-in-a-generation infusion of funding available from the federal and state governments, it is paramount that Hays County establishes a Technology Action Team to ensure 1) the work to improve broadband to date is carried forth, and 2) the community is staying on the top the of state, local, and federal broadband happenings.
Action 1 – Establish a permanent Technology Action Team.
Hays County should establish a local network of leaders who are passionate about improving broadband throughout the community. A standing group of leaders is already active in the broadband space; it’s a matter of making this team official. This will be especially important as grant opportunities arise. This group should serve as a local group of advisors for activity related to broadband and technology.
The Technology Action Team should have representation from all community sectors:
- Health Care: Local physicians or hospital staff, Hays County Health Department
- Government: County Judge, County Commissioners, Mayors, City Councils, County IT Director
- Education (K-12): Superintendents, School IT Directors, Hays CISD, Dripping Springs ISD, Wimberley ISD, San Marcos ISD, and charter schools
- Education (Higher Education): Texas State University, Austin Community College
- Public Safety: Sheriff’s Office, Police and Fire Departments, Emergency Management
- Agriculture: County Ag Agent, leading agriculture producers
- Business: Local chambers of commerce and economic development centers
- Nonprofits and Community Organizations: Kyle Public Library, Buda Public Library, San Marcos Public Library, Dripping Springs Community Library, Wimberley Village Library, Workforce Solutions of Hays County, United Way-Hays County
- Community at Large: Residents who are interested in furthering the broadband agenda of Hays County
The responsibilities of the team should include:
- Staying up to date on state and federal broadband legislation
- Applying for applicable state and federal grant programs
- Ensuring digital engagement in Hays County in all community sectors (telehealth, telework, online learning, Wi-Fi in businesses, etc.)
- Attending workshops, webinars, meetings, and general training that discuss broadband specifically and telecommunications generally
- Providing digital literacy and digital skills assistance to the community’s at-risk populations
- Participating in regular meetings. The team should meet at least once a month. Meetings can be held virtually, in person, or in a hybrid capacity to accommodate members’ needs. These meetings should provide updates on community activities, allow time for guest speakers and presentations, and offer an open forum for discussion about broadband advancements in Hays County
Action 2 – Continue to update the Hays County technology portal/website to promote local broadband resources.
The website should serve as a one-stop resource guide for broadband providers, community residents, and local leaders. The website should include resources related to digital literacy, digital skills, reduced-cost broadband offerings, public computing centers, and other relevant information for residents and internet service providers (ISPs).
Action 3 – Track state and national broadband policies.
The Technology Action Team should remain informed and up to date on any publications, events, and policy briefs published by 1) the Governor’s Broadband Development Council (GBDC) and 2) the Broadband Development Office (BDO). The team should coordinate ongoing community outreach efforts and initiatives following the long-term objectives of the aforementioned entities. Local broadband teams should mirror the successes and objectives laid out by the state of Texas. Taking advantage of federal and state funding as it becomes available will position Hays County to increase digital opportunities for all residents.
Action 4 – Build relationships with internet service providers (ISPs), starting with the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) winners.
The FCC preliminarily awarded funds to ISPs to deploy infrastructure to unserved/underserved areas. This included locations with no internet access or less than 25/3 Mbps.
Two ISPs new to Hays County were tentatively awarded federal money to deploy broadband to areas that currently do not have a least 25/3 Mbps.
- LTD – adding 12 new locations and receiving $17,574
- Resound Networks – adding 2,515 new locations and receiving $1,282,858
The areas can be viewed on CNTX maps.
Establishing relationships with ISPs can open conversations about increasing speeds where needed and discussing barriers to deployment (such as easement constraints, lease agreements, etc.). Hays County leaders talking with ISPs can bring attention to unserved/underserved areas, and partnerships can be developed to be inclusive of all areas. The county has assets such as towers for antennas or infrastructure, and ISPs have knowledge on how to run an internet business. Working together can benefit the community.
Other ISPs in Hays County (Data published January 31, 2022, CNTX):
|PROVIDER||DOING BUSINESS AS||TECHNOLOGY||WEBSITE||MAX DOWNLOAD SPEED (Mbps)||MAX UPLOAD SPEED (Mbps)|
|Anvil Communications Inc.||Anvil Communications||Fixed Wireless||http://www.anvilcom.com/||25||5|
|En-Touch Systems Inc.||Astound Broadband||Fiber||https://www.astound.com/texas/||1000||1000|
|Grande Communications Networks LLC||Astound Broadband||Fiber||https://www.astound.com/texas/||1000||1000|
|Grande Communications Networks LLC||Astound Broadband||Cable||https://www.astound.com/texas/||1000||50|
|En-Touch Systems Inc.||Astound Broadband||Cable||https://www.astound.com/texas/||115||20|
|SW Bell Telephone Co. L.P.||AT&T Southwest||Fiber||http://www.att.com||1000||1000|
|SW Bell Telephone Co. L.P.||AT&T Southwest||DSL||http://www.att.com||100||20|
|GHz Communications Inc.||GHz Wireless||Fixed Wireless||http://www.ghzwireless.com||50||5|
|Guadalupe Valley Telephone Cooperative Inc.||GVTC||Fiber||http://www.gvtc.com/||1000||250|
|Guadalupe Valley Telephone Cooperative Inc.||GVTC||DSL||http://www.gvtc.com/||12||1.5|
|HC Wireless||Hill Country Wireless and Technology||Fixed Wireless||http://www.hcwireless.com/||100||25|
|Hillcountry Networks||Hillcountry Networks||Fixed Wireless||http://www.hillcountrytx.net/||50||10|
|Particle Communications Inc.||Particle Communications||Fixed Wireless||N/A||25||10|
|Rise Broadband||Rise Broadband||Fixed Wireless||https://www.risebroadband.com/||50||10|
|Charter Communications Inc.||Spectrum||Cable||http://www.charter.com/||940||35|
|Charter Communications Inc.||Spectrum||Fiber||http://www.charter.com/||940||35|
|Spry Wireless Inc.||Spry Wireless Inc.||Fixed Wireless||http://www.sprywireless.com/||30||10|
|Texas Wireless Internet||Texas Wireless Internet||Fixed Wireless||http://www.txwinet.com/||10||1|
|T-Mobile USA, Inc.||T-Mobile||Fixed Wireless||http://www.t-mobile.com/||25||3|
|VTX Communications, LLC||VTX Communications||Fixed Wireless||https://www.vtx1.net/||25||3|
|Zeecon Wireless Internet LLC||Zeecon Wireless||Fixed Wireless||http://zeecon.com/||10||1|
Simone Corprew, grant writer, County Judge Becerra, commissioners, anchor institutions, chambers, and engaged residents
Building out the Technology Action Team should begin within three months of approval of the Technology Action Plan.
Provide a countywide approach with consistent curricula to promote digital literacy throughout the region. Verify that all residents have access to the information.
Action 1 – The Hays County Technology Action Team should offer a standardized digital readiness program to residents.
Digital literacy is the ability to use information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create, and communicate information. It requires both cognitive and technical skills.
- The Central Texas Workforce Solution already has a curriculum developed, and after a conversation with Kelly Moreno, Director of Community Engagement, this curriculum can be shared with all public libraries in the county, as well as other community organizations.
- The regional program should cover telework basics and equip participants with the skills necessary for landing a job (e.g., resume building, interview skills). This program should include digital skills, digital literacy, and a workforce development curriculum to extend to all Hays County residents.
Action 2 – Market local nonprofit and for-profit organizations that offer free digital training and workforce skills development programs to residents and businesses.
- Libraries: increase their offering of free digital learning courses, both open-source and with an instructor when possible. Current offerings include:
- Kyle Public Library offers internet skills training through LinkedIn; a community room is also available for use.
- Buda Public Library uses The Universal Class link and a course in Computer Literacy Level 1 – Computer Basics, at a cost of $75.
- San Marcos Public Library has 44 public access computers with software and free Wi-Fi and offers “Tech Help Fridays,” resume help, and assistance setting up Gmail accounts.
- Dripping Springs Community Library uses LinkedIn Learning
- American Red Cross Texas
- Workforce Solutions of Central Texas offers a variety of curricula centered around digital literacy
- Chambers of Commerce: Kyle COC, Buda Area COC, Dripping Springs COC, San Marcos COC, Wimberly COC
- Southside Community Center
- Communities in Schools Texas of Central Texas
- AT&T Digital Literacy Training Initiative
Action 3 – Offer workshops on skills that are valued by local employers and of interest to community members.
Workshop topics to consider:
- Introduction to Microsoft Office Suite – Employers report that 25% of their workers are “poorly” to “fairly well” trained to match the organization’s technology needs.
- About: Train employees on the basics of Microsoft Office Suite, given its ubiquitous use in companies and industries.
- Who: Chambers of commerce
- How to Teleconference – Nearly 3 out of 4 employed survey participants (74%) telework, leaving more than 1 in 4 employees who do not.
- About: What is telework, and why is it appealing for employees and employers?
- Who: Chambers of commerce
- Introduction to social media and websites – The survey reports that 12.5% of businesses do not have a website, and a high percentage of businesses do not use various digital communications tools to interact with their community.
- About: How can an online presence help businesses grow and improve productivity?
- Who: Chambers of commerce
- Telehealth 101 – Access to quality health care is essential, and new technology offers greater access to health care providers via the internet.
- About: Discuss terminology commonly associated with telemedicine and the benefits of virtual health care.
- Who: Local hospital/medical professionals
- Online Safety Tips and Tricks – Residents indicated they “know a little” to “I’m comfortable with this” when referring to cybersecurity on the internet.
- About: Being safe on the internet should be a priority for all. Discuss how to keep you, your family, and your information safe online.
- Who: Hays County Police or Sheriff’s Department
- Effective Online Learning and Teaching Strategies – In Hays County, K-12 schools report 50% of classroom instruction is traditional, and 50% is web-facilitated. Blending learning techniques is key to incorporating effective teaching methods.
- About: Discuss what teachers and students can do to maximize the benefits of online learning.
- Who: Dripping Springs ISD, Hays CISD, Ki Charter Academy, Katherine Anne Porter School, San Marcos CISD, Texas Preparatory School, Wimberley ISD
County Judge, Technology Action Team, chambers of commerce, nonprofits, for-profits, public libraries
Digital literacy and workforce development programs are important in the here and now. Classes should be offered by the fall of 2022. The curriculum should be reviewed and updated every three to four months.
Provide free Wi-Fi in public places and low-cost options for residents to close the Digital Divide.
In Hays County, 5.5% of survey participants do not have an internet connection, and of those households, 18.5% indicate that they do not have internet because it is too expensive. Of those who do have a connection, 55% are dissatisfied with their service. Diving deeper into the statistics, 67% of those dissatisfied with service say cost is a factor. Other reasons for dissatisfaction are having an unreliable connection and slow speeds. With an aggressive strategic plan to connect its residents to reliable and affordable broadband, Hays County can lead the region in economic growth and educational opportunities.
Action 1 – Promote programs that help residents overcome the affordability barrier to broadband adoption.
Hays 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 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, Hays 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 Hays County, AT&T offers the Access from AT&T program for $10 per month or less based on the maximum speed available at the subscriber’s address, with speeds up to 25 Mbps. Spectrum (Charter) offers Spectrum Internet Assist for about $20 a month for up to 30 Mbps. This is subject to household eligibility and service availability at a specific address. Prices are subject to change, so residents are advised to check with their providers.
- State and federal low-cost programs: Two critical programs offer discounts for broadband to eligible households:
- Lifeline Program: This is a federal assistance program administered 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 service. The Lifeline discount for qualifying low-income customers may be up to $12.75 per month ($3.50 state discount and $9.25 federal Lifeline discount), depending on the services a resident subscribes to and their 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 such as a laptop or tablet. A complete list of Texas providers offering ACP discounts can be found here. For a full list of providers listed by city, state, or ZIP code that offer this service, please click here.
Action 2 – Make public Wi-Fi locations available throughout Hays County.
The Technology Action Team should document and promote an inventory of public Wi-Fi locations in the community, focusing on institutions that are frequented by residents. This can be done by working with the community anchor institutions, such as public libraries, to identify the number of Wi-Fi hotspots on available public computers. Additionally, compiling community hotspot availability in public places, such as parks and other recreational centers, and developing plans to create hotspots in areas where people attend recreational activities, such as tourist attractions, can significantly expand public access.
Action 3 – Educate community anchor institutions such as libraries, community centers, and senior centers that host public computing centers, on their important role in providing open, public internet access to residents in downtown areas or other public spaces.
This is a simple, straightforward way to encourage the community to participate in bridging the Digital Divide. Other opportunities may exist with religious facilities, schools, local government offices, RV parks, restaurants, or various social service providers that offer services in English and Spanish.
The Technology Action Team, librarians, commissioners, County Judge, chambers of commerce, churches, and community service providers.
An inventory of library broadband offerings and free community public broadband should be performed within three months of acceptance of this plan.
The Affordable Connectivity Program is designed to supplement the cost of internet services to qualifying households
Address the disparity in services around Texas State University (TSU), which is important to the county and the university to attract future students.
CNTX conducted a high-level broadband outside plant audit between June 5 and 12, 2022 to determine the availability of broadband infrastructure across Hays County. The assessment was designed to identify infrastructure that existed across the county to determine how to fill in the missing gaps.
Of interest, CNTX found that the campus of TSU had fiber to the premise (FTTP), while students who live off-campus had hybrid fiber-coaxial cable (HFC). The difference can be quite dramatic in speed, especially in high-traffic times of day.
Action 1 – Develop a dialogue with property owners and ISPs.
Bring property owners and providers together to discuss the speed and technology needs of students and residents in housing close to campus.
- Local providers serving the area surrounding the TSU campus include:
- Astound (Grande Communications) – cable – 600/35 Mbps
- CenturyLink – DSL – 80/10 Mbps
- Particle Communications – fixed wireless – 25/10
- Spectrum – cable – 940/35
- Spry Wireless – fixed wireless – 30/10 Mbps
- Texas Wireless Internet – fixed wireless – 10/1
- VTX Communications – fixed wireless – 25/3 Mbps
*This may not be an all-inclusive list.
Although Astound only offers speeds of 600/35 Mbps to households near TSU campus, CNTX verified that it offers much faster fiber internet service, at speeds up to 1000/1000 Mbps, to households on campus. Additionally, fiber markers indicate the presence of several other providers near campus.
Action 2 – Property owners should promote available internet service, types of technology, and speeds at their locations to students prior to leases being signed.
This will allow students to choose the best-connected locations for their studies. Disclosure of this information can help develop and further strengthen relationships between property owners and internet providers.
Informing students of internet coverage available at their off-campus living should be ongoing. Speaking with local providers about current internet offerings should begin immediately.