The Karnes 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.
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.
Invested and sustained local leadership is a broadband best practice and follows the example of federal and state governments deploying broadband officers in each state.
From July to October 2022, Karnes County, in partnership with Connected Nation Texas (CN Texas), collected surveys across nine community sectors to assess the connectivity, affordability, and general technology needs of Karnes County residents. The local broadband team consisted of Commissioner Shelby Dupnik, County Judge Wade Hedtke, and Michelle Salais. To be more effective and consistent moving forward, a permanent team should be established. With the once-in-a-generation infusion of money coming from federal and state governments, Karnes County must establish a Broadband Technology Action Team to ensure 1.) that the work to improve broadband to date is carried forth, and 2.) that the community is staying on top of local, state, and federal broadband happenings.
Action 1: Establish a permanent Broadband Technology Action Team.
Karnes County should establish a local network of leaders who are passionate about improving broadband throughout the community and can serve as the go-to point of contact for questions, meetings, and projects. A standing group of leaders is already active in the broadband space; it is only a matter of making it official. This will be especially important as grant opportunities arise. This group should serve as local advisors related to broadband and technology.
The Broadband Technology Action Team should have representation from all community sectors:
- Health care: Local physicians or hospital staff: Karnes County Local Health Department
- Government: County Judge, County Commissioners, Mayors, City Councils, County IT Director
- Education (K-12): Superintendents, Falls City ISD, Karnes ISD, Kenedy ISD, Pawnee ISD, Pettus ISD, Runge ISD
- Public safety: Sheriff’s Office, Police and Fire Departments, Emergency Management
- Agriculture: County Agriculture Agent, leading agriculture producers
- Business: Local chambers of commerce and economic development centers
- Nonprofits and community organizations: Karnes County Public library, Kenedy Public Library, Falls City Library, Workforce Solutions of Alamo Career Center(s), chambers of commerce
- Community at large: Residents who are interested in advancing the broadband agenda of Karnes County
The responsibilities of the team should include:
- Staying up to date on state and federal broadband legislation
- Maintaining open lines of communication with the state Broadband Development Office, including sharing the community’s needs
- Applying for applicable state and federal grant programs
- Ensuring digital engagement in Karnes County in all the 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 Karnes County.
Action 2: Develop a Karnes 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 Texas Broadband Plan, published in June 2022 by the Texas Comptroller’s office, reaffirmed what we know to be true: broadband is the foundation for economic growth, job creation, educational opportunities, global competitiveness, and better care in the health care industry. The Broadband Technology Action Team should remain informed and up to date on any publications, events, and policy briefs published by the Governor’s Broadband Development Council (GBDC) and the Broadband Development Office (BDO). The team should coordinate ongoing community outreach efforts and initiatives to align with these entities. Local planning and implementation 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 Karnes County to increase digital opportunities for all residents.
Action 4: Build relationships with internet service providers (ISPs).
Meetings with ISPs, including middle-mile vendors, have taken place over the past several months. Establishing relationships with ISPs can open conversations about increasing speeds where needed and decreasing barriers to deployment (such as easement constraints, lease agreements, etc.) When Karnes County leadership talks with ISPs, it brings attention to unserved/underserved areas, and partnerships can be developed to be inclusive of all. The county brings assets, such as towers for antennas or infrastructure, and providers bring know-how to run an internet business. Working together can benefit the community.
Current providers in Karnes County include:
|Provider doing business -as name||Technology||Website||Download / Upload Speed|
|AT&T Southwest||Fixed Wireless||http://www.att.com/||10/1|
|GTEK Communications||Fixed Wireless||http://www.gtek.biz/||50/10|
|Gulf Coast Wi-Fi||Fixed Wireless||https://gulfcoastwifi.com/||20/5|
|Rural Texas Broadband||Fixed Wireless||http://www.rtxbb.net/||10/1|
|VTX Communications||Fixed Wireless||http://vtx1.net/||25/3|
|ZipLink Internet||Fixed Wireless||http://www.ziplinkinternet.com/||20/10|
Karnes County Commissioner Court, County Judge, anchor institutions, chambers, and engaged residents.
Building out the Technology Action Team should begin within three months of approval of the Technology Action Plan.
Validating internet access and speeds can help the county qualify for future grant money and inform providers where there is demand for broadband services.
Residents noted the need for more options and more reliable connections, saying:
- “I would for sure pay more for good fiber internet than I am currently paying.”
- “We need better, more reliable high-speed internet. Some of the companies advertised as ‘high speed’ simply are not. We also need service that doesn’t go out when the wind gets above 5 mph, or we get six drops of rain.”
- “With children in school and college, and going back to school for higher education myself, the need for greater speed is high. Everyone cannot be on our internet service we have now without major lag.”
Federal funding is often critical to spurring additional deployment. Providers operating, or wanting to operate, in Karnes County did not qualify for the Rural Development Opportunities Funds (RDOF) awarded by the Federal Communications Commission in 2020-21. RDOF criteria allowed for funding to providers in census blocks designated as unserved or underserved at 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload speeds. In Karnes County, 100% of census blocks report having 25/3 Mbps; however, residents and businesses consistently report they do not have access to a reliable internet connection. Household survey respondents report the following:
- 71% indicated they are dissatisfied with service, and of that percentage:
- 84% report speeds are too slow
- 72% report dissatisfaction because the connection is unreliable
- 60% of households without a connection do not or cannot subscribe to broadband service because of no access
Business survey respondents mirror these percentages.
Action 1: Perform a broadband build-out analysis.
Currently, the government uses FCC Form 477 data to establish internet access. Form 477 data is often overstated, and Karnes County maps showing 100% access of 25/3 Mbps may be inaccurate.
Gathering additional data could help the Broadband Technology Action Team understand the reasons why some areas of the community remain unserved. It can also help determine the feasibility of deploying various internet systems in the defined area and generate a business case for deployment.
This analysis of unserved and underserved areas will help the Broadband Technology Action Team understand local assets and any barriers to broadband deployment. The team should solicit feedback from residents of the unserved territory on their demand. A broadband build-out analysis could include:
- Field validation: Conduct on-site visual assessments of the defined geographic areas that are unserved or underserved by broadband coverage. The assessment determines the feasibility of deploying various internet systems in a defined area by gathering site-specific information required for (i) determining the use of existing infrastructure, (ii) designing wired and wireless internet systems using these assets, and (iii) expanding broadband coverage in the defined area. CN Texas can help with this work if requested.
- Community broadband survey follow up: Use the results of the CN Texas Residential Technology Survey to identify pockets of demand in areas without service. These results provide information on currently adopted speeds and costs. The Broadband Technology Action Team can also solicit more in-depth feedback from residents who live in neighborhoods in the unserved areas to determine the exact need or in communities where more residential survey data is needed.
- Market analysis: A market analysis should also be performed to identify potential broadband providers and understand potential service offerings, and respective rates.
- Investment: Results of the studies should be analyzed and released to providers to inform a business case for expansion or upgrades.
- Provider engagement: Community broadband team members should include broadband providers in discussions of access expansion. Providers may have expansion plans that communities are not aware of or have expansion infrastructure requirements due to federal commitments, (e.g., Connect America Fund).
County and local units of government with a high number of underserved households; Karnes County broadband team broadband providers; residents and businesses
Survey responses and community conversations indicate an urgent need for public safety is access and securing a reliable connection to the internet in the most rural parts of the county.
The average speeds reported by public safety survey respondents are 20/5 Mbps. Commissioner Dupnik, who also serves as the Emergency Management Coordinator, reports there is no redundancy for mobile internet service. Therefore, all or parts of the county could be without internet during an emergency. He stated, “Internet service went out the other day because someone cut a fiber line and the county had no service.” The County needs to address this by asking what the most immediate requirements are to meet public safety technology communication needs now, as well as where the community needs to be in ten years.
Action 1: Maintain a clear understanding of Karnes County’s technology responsibilities and the state of Texas’ obligations when deploying emergency management technology and other communications (i.e., NextGen 911).
Action 2: Perform a field validation in the rural areas of the county.
As discussed in Goal 2, this will confirm where there is access to the internet and where there is not and identify any redundancy technology.
Action 3: Engage with ISPs and produce a plan to provide infrastructure, increase speeds, and provide redundancy capabilities.
Public safety should explore additional backup services that would serve as cutover services when primary services experience outages. This is not simply service from a secondary provider, but service from an ISP that offers an entirely different physical path. This will help restore critical services quickly during outages through primary services. It is good practice for any entity that deems connectivity vital and mission critical to the continuity of their services or business to consider their options and develop a plan that will allow for the mitigation of service disruptions. As an example, to help mitigate service disruptions for 911 services, it would be good practice to have a back-up, 10-digit 911 rollover number that does not use the same network as the main line so that calls can stay in the county during outages.
Action 4: Leverage existing community assets in tandem with private sector carriers to expand broadband network deployment via public-private partnerships.
A public-private partnership is not simply a method of financing. The strength of these partnerships is that each party brings something important to the table that the other does not have or cannot easily acquire. The community 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. Private-sector partners bring network-building and operations experience. Here are some steps to consider when embarking on P3s.
- Determine priorities: Competition, enhanced service, equity and service to all, public control over infrastructure, risk avoidance, redundancy, etc.
- Examine models of partnership:
- Model 1 — Private Investment, Public Facilitation: Make available public assets such as fiber and conduit, share geographic information systems (GIS) data, 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, and issue an RFP for a private turnkey execution.
- Model 3 — Shared Investment and Risk: Evaluate using assets to attract private investment, evaluate funding new assets to attract private investment, and evaluate building new fiber assets to businesses and/or homes for leasing to private ISPs.
- Understand key legal considerations for localities looking to build a broadband partnership: Review authority issues, understand the legal tools and instruments that could shape the partnership, and negotiate the agreement.
Local units of government, emergency management coordinator; ISPs; community anchor institutions; residents and businesses
Research and plans should be made after the Technology Action Team is formed. The Team should be formed within three months of acceptance of this Technology Action Plan.
Providing telehealth in schools promotes health care for all students, improves attendance, and care can be provided with or without insurance.
With learning loss due to the pandemic, students need to be in school. Making available public telehealth stations allows residents to receive medical attention when a physical doctor visit is not possible or necessary.
Action 1: Explore school telehealth programs to provide health care and testing for common ailments such as strep, flu, and COVID-19.
Currently, only Karnes City ISD subscribes to a student telehealth service — Goodside Health. Goodside Health allows immediate access to physical and behavioral health care via the internet. It is offered free of charge to the students and endorsed by Superior HealthPlan.
Action 2: Convene a countywide discussion on how telehealth can be implemented in public spaces. Anchor institutions can play a leading role in offering safe telehealth locations.
It is important to recognize that many libraries and other nonprofits offer services that are not considered part of their core mission. There are successful examples of libraries making a dramatic difference in their communities by offering a safe place for residents to seek telehealth care. Libraries can offer private rooms for patient visits, secure internet connections, and technology support to ensure patients can complete telehealth visits successfully.
This countywide conversation can be led by the Broadband Technology Action Team, which should include members from the health care sector and anchor institutions. Coordinating deployment of telehealth resources, whether in schools, libraries, or through nonprofit outreach, is critical to reach the patients in most need of these services.
An article entitled, Public Libraries Tackle Telehealth Challenges, provides examples and resources on how to get started.
CN Texas also offers many open-source resources and information about telehealth, including a five-part webinar, research papers, and blogs. More information can be found here.
Karnes County school districts:
- Falls City Independent School District
- Karnes City Independent School -
- Kenedy Independent School District
- Pawnee Independent School District
- Pettus Independent School District
- Runge Independent School District
Telehealth services are available and should be implemented in the school districts within three months of acceptance of the Technology Action Plan. Community meetings should take place when an expert from the telehealth field can be scheduled to attend.
Resources available in the hyperlinks above
Providing free Wi-Fi in public places and low-cost options for residents can help close the Digital Divide.
Based on ISP conversations with Connected Nation and the broadband team, there is interest to partner with the County to bring broadband to all. Unfortunately, if people can not afford internet services, adoption is not possible.
In Karnes County, over 21% of survey participants without a connection do not or can not subscribe to broadband services because it is too expensive. With an aggressive strategic plan to connect the county to reliable and affordable broadband, Karnes County can begin to close the Digital Divide.
Action 1: Promote programs that help residents overcome the affordability barrier to broadband adoption.
Karnes County should collaborate 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 water bills, 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:
- Resources to locate affordable internet service or computers: Using online resources, Karnes 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 Karnes 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 25Mbps. 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 on 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 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 tablets. A complete list of Texas providers offering ACP discounts can be found here. For a full list of providers by city, state, or ZIP code that offer this service, please click here.
Action 2: Make public Wi-Fi available throughout Karnes County and share these locations with the community.
The Broadband 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 asking community businesses and anchor institutions if they have public Wi-Fi available at their locations and asking public libraries how many Wi-Fi hotspots and public computers they have available. With this information, the team can compile a list of community hotspot availability in public places. This information can be hosted on the broadband resource webpage and promoted in physical locations around the county. Additionally, developing plans to provide public Wi-Fi in areas where people attend recreational activities, such as parks, tourist attractions, and other recreational centers, can significantly expand public access.
Action 3: Convene community anchor institutions such as libraries, community centers, and senior centers that host public computers to discuss their key 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; local chambers; churches; ISPs
An inventory of library broadband offerings and other free public broadband resources 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 households who qualify
Additional resources on digital literacy and closing the digital skills gap: