The Broadband Team in Refugio County has completed its community technology assessment. The results of this assessment can be found by clicking the symbol for each of the sections below. The Solutions sector includes recommended actions the community can implement to improve the broadband and technology ecosystem at a local level. It should be noted that much of the assessment was conducted before or at the beginning of 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 line, 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 map below shows broadband availability in Refugio County.
About 91.38% of Refugio County households have access to 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload speeds, which is considered high-speed internet by the FCC. However, when analyzing broadband data for speeds of 100 Mbps download and 10 Mbps upload, Refugio County coverage is just over 69%. When charting a path forward for connectivity in Refugio County, leadership should target increasing broadband availability to 100 Mbps download and 10 Mbps upload for all residents – the optimal speed needed to run many modern applications today. Through the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) commitments, Refugio County has the opportunity for nearly all of the county to have access to at least 25/3 Mbps in the coming years. However, the community should still develop a long-term strategy for continuous improvement and advancement of broadband speeds in Refugio County.
Action 1 - Establish a county broadband manager position to handle the business of broadband in Refugio County.
Currently, there is no office or person to call, other than Judge Blaschke, if one needs to discuss broadband in Refugio County. Since broadband has become part of a community’s critical infrastructure and with funding potentially coming in via the America Rescue Plan and the Rural Digital Opportunity Fund and other opportunities, it is imperative that there is an assigned leader to handle the necessary engagement, planning, and execution of broadband-related activities. Providers and the public will need to understand the County’s processes to do business and relationships will need to be established. This is especially important given the Fiber Optic Loop Feasibility Study conducted by CobbFendley, which may have dramatic implications for the region. Information about the study can be found here: https://www.aransascounty.org/harvey/aransas-county-fiber-optic-feasibility-study/.
Duties of the Broadband point of contact can include:
- Developing and managing provider relationships. Additionally, establishing relationships with RDOF winners, Resound Networks and NexTier Consortium. Between the two, 1,234 new locations will be receiving broadband with minimum speeds of 25/3, and Resound is promising Gigabit speeds.
- Creating partnerships with local community organizations around broadband access, adoption and use of broadband.
- Establishing contact with Representative Michael Cloud’s office. James Baker is his Director of Public Policy, e-mail: email@example.com, Tel. 361-884-2222. He is very knowledgeable about broadband in rural communities and can offer help on federal grants and programs.
- Distributing public information on affordable broadband services and training.
- Deploying RFQs for services needed regarding broadband.
- Reporting updates about broadband activity to county leadership. This includes activity generated from RDOF money and other grants, loans, and subsidies the County may seek.
Action 2 - With RDOF funds committed to covering unserved areas, Refugio County may consider completing an audit (field validation) of currently served areas of the county.
- This should focus on areas where the surveys indicate that service is not available. Also focus on areas where FCC 477 broadband data is the main source of data, as this data could misrepresent services in these areas, particularly at the outer edges of these service areas.
Develop and release an RFQ for an evaluation to better understand Refugio County’s assets and barriers to service.
- Assets include anchor tenants, antennas, building rooftops, light poles, and towers that Refugio County owns.
- Barriers include road easements, pole owner leases, polices and regulations that Refugio County controls.
It is important that the broadband manager negotiate with the providers for the benefit of the residents. Understanding and negotiating your broadband assets is the beginning of establishing public/private partnerships with providers. Counties have assets, providers need to deploy their services. This is an opportunity to work together.
Action 3 - The broadband manager should develop relationships with their counterparts in the region and meet regularly as funding opportunities become available to implement the plan.
Refugio County needs to understand the Regional Fiber Optic Infrastructure Study (RFOIS) that has been released for the entire region by CobbFendley. The County needs to be an active stakeholder and participate where it benefits Refugio County. Understanding how this plan may or may not overlap with RDOF plans is important in order not to duplicate work.
Understanding the goal of the RFOIS and the goal of Refugio County is important. The goal of RFOIS is to determine the feasibility of designing a network for emergency management that can withstand natural disasters. Secondary benefits will be economic development and better communication. RDOF funding goals are to improve internet access for residents and businesses in Refugio County with secondary benefits being economic development.
The broadband manager should be established immediately by leadership. Although details of the job have been discussed above, it can be modified to fit the specific needs of Refugio County. Finding a regional solution is desired by Judge Blaschke and this should be considered, and discussion should be centered on how a regional approach can work across county lines and how each entity receives the attention it needs.
Depending on the final decision, this position may be housed under a regional entity or locally under Refugio County leadership and if agreed, cost may be shared with surrounding cities and counties needing the same dedicated attention to broadband. It should also be noted there are philanthropy grants for broadband and this option can be explored for additional funding.
Connected Nation – advising on network build-out, mapping, RFP consulting: https://connectednation.org
Governors Start 2021 by Expanding Access to broadband: https://www.nga.org/news/commentary/governors-expanding-access-broadband-2021/
Broadband grants and funding opportunities: https://rendernetworks.com/broadband-grants-funding/
Fiber Broadband Association State Resources: https://www.fiberbroadband.org/page/texas-156
Broadband Expansion in Texas: https://comptroller.texas.gov/economy/fiscal-notes/2021/feb/broadband.php
While over 90% of households in Refugio have broadband service (25/3 Mbps), only 65% have adopted fixed broadband and 19% are using non-fixed connections to connect to the internet. Research over the years shows that lack of digital literacy – particularly in low-income households - is a barrier to broadband adoption. To overcome this barrier to adoption and increase opportunities for the community to learn basic digital skills and job skills, the county should partner with local community organizations to deploy digital skills training programs. Digital skills training is not only important because it drives broadband adoption, but businesses view training and having a digital competent workforce as important. Therefore, offering digital training skills in the community will increase adoption and use of the internet in Refugio County.
Action 1 - Facilitate and deploy basic digital skills and job training programs in Refugio County.
The current and the future job market will require employees to understand how to use the internet. Residents who need to fill out government forms, bank loans, and other documents only available on the internet, will also need basic digital skills.
- Create a partnership between Refugio County and local community influencers such as:
- Dennis M O’Connor library
- Refugio ISD, Austwell-Tivoli ISD, and Woodsboro ISD
- Local broadband providers and RDOF recipients
- Refugio County Chamber of Commerce
- Local churches
- The Refugio County Community Development Foundation led by Hailey Satterwhite of Santos McBain, can implement a digital literacy program, as well as a digital job skills training program as part of the economic development plan for Refugio County.
These training resources consist of computer labs where in-person training can be provided along with online courses. Additionally, the training programs can leverage free content widely available online for deriving curriculum or self-paced training. Many of these online courses are free of charge such as: Drive Your Learning offered by Connected Nation, details can be found at https://connectednation.org/. Each facility needs a sufficient number of computers, software, and broadband connectivity. The facility should have hours of operation that are conducive for the target audience, and engage in sufficient outreach and awareness efforts to reach them. It is very important to understand the target population because failure to reach them with appropriate messaging about the training may result in minimal interest and low attendance at the training sessions.
The County should also consider a digital literacy training effort hosted at the library to provide digital skills training in English and Spanish. Some organizations that provide free training resources in English and Spanish include:
- Goodwill Foundation: English and Spanish
- Grow with Google: https://grow.google/intl/es-419_us/
Action 2 - Classes should be offered to the business community to increase their knowledge of the internet and help with the growth of their businesses.
Surveys show over 70% of residents interact with local businesses via the internet, but only 42% of business have a presence online. Partner with local community business organizations such as Refugio County Career Women, Refugio County Chamber of Commerce, and Refugio County Community Development Foundation to host digital skills training.
Subjects can include:
- Digital skill classes
- Website building classes
- Social media classes
- Telehealth classes
- Cybersecurity classes
Organization of these initiatives can be done by the broadband manager or regional advocate under the guidance of county leadership and the Commissioners Court.
Classes can be hosted by:
- Local area internet experts
- Nonprofit organization volunteers (i.e., Chambers)
- For-profit organization volunteers
- Librarian Tina McGuill and staff
- Internet providers in the areas
- Private-sector technology companies (e.g., web developers, device repair, etc.)
The Drive digital learning hub provides ready access to a variety of digital literacy training programs: http://driveyourlearning.org/.
American Library Association - PLA, AT&T team up to bring digital literacy training to families http://www.ala.org/news/press-releases/2021/05/pla-att-team-bring-digital-literacy-training-families
AARP Joins with Nonprofit to Teach Tech to Older Adults: AARP
Connected Nation Initiative: https://www.driveyourlearning.org/
Telehealth information: https://connectednation.org/programs/telehealth-summit
Digital Learn Curriculum: Public Library Association
Internet Safety: http://www.gcflearnfree.org/internetsafety/
Refugio County should promote low-cost broadband offerings in the community to increase broadband adoption. With a poverty rate of over 18%, residents will benefit from learning about affordable services available to them, including some programs offered by providers including the Emergency Broadband Benefit Program which was launched in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. These programs are available now, the county can begin promoting them as soon as possible.
Action 1 - Research low-cost offering in the community.
The broadband manager or regional advocate should gather necessary information about private or federal programs by reaching out to providers and from the resources provided below:
- Visit https://www.everyoneon.org/ to find local low-cost, high-speed internet offers by ZIP code or contact local providers listed in this plan to determine their offerings.
- The FCC administers the Lifeline program that provides a $9.25 per month subsidy for the purchase of voice telephone service, including mobile, and broadband for low-income households, https://www.lifelinesupport.org/.
- The FCC also recently launched a temporary Emergency Broadband Benefit Program which provides a discount on monthly bills ($50 per month or $75 on Tribal lands), plus $100 for a device, for qualifying low-income households. To find out which providers are offering this service go to https://getemergencybroadband.org/companies-near-me/.
Action 2 – Distribute information to local organizations for them to share with their constituents.
These organizations include Woodsboro ISD, Austwell-Tivoli ISD, and Refugio ISD.
Action 3 - Promote low-cost offerings via government and other community organizations websites.
The broadband manager or regional advocate should ensure that information about these programs is available to the community via websites and in print.
The broadband manager or regional advocate should gather necessary information and coordinate with stakeholders across the country to promote low-cost services for vulnerable communities.
Lifeline – Low-Income Texas residents can qualify for help in paying their monthly cell phone: http://pdi.blogs.rice.edu/files/2018/07/cropped-PDI-Banner-1rbxcxj.png 2
Representative Michael Cloud - Rep. Cloud is very interested in broadband and can be a vital resource to helping Refugio County – Contact James Baker, Director of Public Policy: firstname.lastname@example.org or Tel. 361-884-2222.
Website of updated discount offers sorted by ZIP code: https://www.everyoneon.org/find-offers