The Wharton County, Texas Broadband Team has completed the community technology assessment. The results of the 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. With a location, however, fixed broadband service is often broadcast as a Wi-Fi network to connect nearby devices.
The map below shows broadband access in the community.
A digital ready community has an active technology action plan and is committed to ensuring ALL residents have access to equitable high-speed internet and the skills to meaningfully engage with businesses, government, and community anchor institutions. Using digital applications and other resources available via high-speed internet, a digital ready community is committed to increasing economic opportunity and a better quality of life for its residents. A digital ready community has the infrastructure and the digital skills necessary to attract businesses and new jobs for its residents driven by both local and outside businesses.
Wharton County should proceed in becoming a digital ready community in the next six months by appointing a liaison to lead community engagement efforts around broadband with local stakeholders, teaching digital skills to residents and businesses, and providing Wi-Fi in public places.
Action 1 - Appoint a single point of contact within the local government
The development and organization of a liaison’s office begins with the champions of this survey: County Judge Phillip Spenrath; Josh Owens, Wharton Economic Development Corporation Executive Director; and Carolyn Gibson, Executive Director of El Campo City Development Corporation. They will guide the process through the appointing of a liaison. A liaison can educate, advise, and promote broadband in Wharton County. This person should understand how state and federal grants work and be accountable for incoming money from a variety of federal and state programs the county will be receiving. This person is also responsible for updated website information the community, providers, and businesses need to do business in the county. This can be done by full-time or part-time hiring; providing a stipend; reorganizing workloads; or hiring a consultant. Entities can share services and cost.
Once a liaison is appointed, all responsibilities and duties move to that office. The liaison can be part of the Wharton County administration, part of the Wharton Economic Development Corporation, or El Campo City Development Corporation. The important part to remember is there is one point of contact for all things broadband, and this is their job.
Action 2 - Use resolutions or Memoranda of Understanding (MOUs) stating needs and goals for Wharton County
Each entity should sign their commitment and review progress every six months. Entities include Wharton City Council, El Campo City Council, East Bernard Board of Aldermen, and Wharton County Commissioners’ Court. Mr. Owens should present the MOU or Resolution to the governing bodies for signatures and review yearly. The liaison should present updates to the elected officials every six months concerning broadband grants and loans that are available or that Wharton County has applied to receive, new private/public partnerships being considered, any additional households and residents receiving broadband access, any new providers in town, and keep all elected bodies informed of any updates from the Houston-Galveston Area Council.
Action 3 - Provide digital skills and access to training for residents and businesses
The liaison office should take the lead on providing digital skills to the community, but other organizations can host classes: Wharton Chamber of Commerce & Agriculture, El Campo Chamber of Commerce, Wharton County Library System, and Wharton County Junior College, for example. The classes can be taught by local experts, nonprofits, or offered online. This is inexpensive to offer and should be done immediately. Below are some free digital skills training resources:
- 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
- Digital Learn Curriculum: Public Library Association
- A Connected Nation Initiative: https://www.driveyourlearning.org/
- AARP Joins with Nonprofit to Teach Tech to Older Adults: AARP
Action 4 - Incorporate broadband development and planning within local budgets
Wharton County and its cities should develop a budget with the liaison’s input. All outside state and federal money should be listed along with any local monies. All projects should be listed with cost and where the money is coming from. There are economic benefits to increased connectivity, and it is said we measure what we care about. As part of the budget, Wharton County, El Campo, and East Bernard should measure cost vs. revenues of broadband services. Internet connectivity provides employment opportunities, allows workers to live in rural counties instead of big cities, enables next-generation farming capabilities, allows telemedicine capabilities, and more. This revenue can offset the cost local governments contribute to provide broadband to Wharton County residents.
Action 5 - Provide high-speed internet in public places easily accessible to its residents
The liaison’s office, Wharton County Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture, El Campo Chamber of Commerce and the Wharton County Library System should promote Wi-Fi services already publicly available. This can include public Wi-Fi in restaurants, K-12 schools, higher education facilities such as Wharton County Junior College, transit stations such as the Valley Transit Bus Center, Wharton County Library System, hotels, hospitals, coffee shops, bookstores, gas stations, department stores, supermarkets, and RV parks/campgrounds. Wharton County may have a unique center to provide Wi-Fi, such as the Wharton County Civic Center and the El Campo Civic Center.
This can be promoted through websites, social media, and in businesses. Residents who cannot access the internet at home should have public Wi-Fi available to conduct business such as banking, insurance, and shopping online.
- The development and organization of a liaison’s office begins with Carolyn Gibson, Executive Director, El Campo City Development Corporation, and Josh Owens, Executive Director, Wharton Economic Development Corporation.
- The liaison and the governing officials should work in conjunction under an MOU or a resolution.
- The Economic and Development Director of Wharton County should develop a budget with the liaison’s input.
- The liaison’s office, Wharton County Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture, El Campo Chamber of Commerce and the Wharton County Library System should promote Wi-Fi services already publicly available.
- An example of a MOU: https://ouraycountyco.gov/DocumentCenter/View/2669/E-11--Region-10-Broadband-MOU-Draft?bidId=
- Broadband Information compiled by the Houston-Galveston Area Council: https://www.h-gac.com/broadband
- Broadband Information complied by Connected Nation – resources, podcasts, funding sources, broadband policies, etc.: https://connectednation.org/statewide-impacts/connected-nation-texas
- Bridging the Rural Broadband Gap: https://itif.org/publications/2021/03/22/how-bridge-rural-broadband-gap-once-and-all
Below are free digital skills training resources:
- 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
- Digital Learn Curriculum: Public Library Association:
- A Connected Nation Initiative: https://www.driveyourlearning.org/
- AARP Joins with Nonprofit to Teach Tech to Older Adults: AARP
- Examples of one Texas town meeting residents’ broadband needs: https://ilsr.org/how-mcallen-texas-quietly-built-residents-a-free-wi-fi-network-over-the-summer/
- Wi-Fi hotspot locator apps: https://www.lifewire.com/free-online-wifi-hotspot-locators-818276
- Resources compiled by Connected Nation: https://connectednation.org/resources/resources-solutions-for-at-home-connectivity
- 5 Reasons Why You Should Offer Free Wi-Fi to Your Customers: Spectrio
The most common reason for slow rural internet is that it is expensive for internet providers to expand and update infrastructure, so it is less financially motivating to expand to rural areas with less people. Helping providers decrease the cost can incentivize them to offer services in sparsely populated areas of Wharton County.
Action 1 - Develop and release an RFP for an asset inventory
The Liaison’s office guides the development of an RFP. The community can offer infrastructure for the deployment of a network, as well as committed anchor tenants. This audit will identify Wharton County assets that can be shared and leveraged in partnership with private sector carriers. Developing an interactive map with inventory and making it publicly available will be helpful to providers and community leaders. Infrastructure includes:
- Publicly owned buildings
- Light poles
- Other vertical assets for mounting broadband antennas.
Action 2 - After Wharton County has a list of their broadband assets, they should partner with local providers, as well as engaging in future state and current federal programs, to decrease the cost of broadband infrastructure across the County
Private sector partners bring network-building and operational experience and Wharton County brings fixed assets to the table, thus lowering cost to subscribers.
Action 3 - Enact a “Dig Once” policy whereby public or private excavators are required to coordinate with the liaison office to install fiber or conduit wherever ground is broken on a public right-of-way
This policy should be made clear on your county/cities websites and housed in the liaison’s office. This policy should be enacted immediately.
The Federal Highway Administration has indicated that “ninety percent of the cost of deploying broadband is when the work requires significant excavation of the roadway.” A “dig once” policy increases coordination between government agencies and utility companies to minimize the frequency of roadway excavation and disturbance. These policies aim to facilitate joint trenching cost savings and ensure that broadband infrastructure improvements are considered alongside other infrastructure and public works projects. To this end, these policies encourage or require that every infrastructure project include notification and facilitation of opportunities to lower the costs of broadband infrastructure investment by coordinating project planning when a right-of-way (ROW) disturbance occurs. Considering the terrain in the area, such policies could make it significantly easier for internet service providers to expand broadband infrastructure in the community at a lower cost, making it accessible to more households in the area that currently rely on wireless or satellite connections.
All actions should be executed under the liaison’s office guidance.
Connected Nation: CN can provide this service and/or consulting services and be a guide to writing and reviewing an RFP for asset inventory control.
Establish Policies and Procedures to support Investment: https://nextcenturycities.org/becoming-broadband-ready/
FTTH Council Americas: https://www.ncbroadband.gov/media/50/download?attachment
Increase adoption and usage of the internet by all age groups allowing for a better quality of life and opportunities for Wharton County residents. This should be organized in the first six months.
Action 1 - Offer free or low-cost classes to reduce the skills barrier to broadband adoption and to increase use of online applications
The liaison office should take the lead on providing information to learn digital skills and programs to the community, but other organizations can host classes: Wharton County Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture, El Campo Chamber of Commerce, Wharton County Junior College, and the Wharton County Library System, for example. The classes can be taught by local experts, non-profits, or online. This is inexpensive to offer and should be done immediately. Some examples of courses to offer include:
- Basic internet skills training
- Website design for businesses
- Social media and web surfing for residents
- Cybersecurity and internet safety
- Other relevant topics
Action 2 - Inform the community about telehealth and how it works and how to access your doctor online
Promote the benefits of this, especially to older residents. This can help to address challenges associated with living in sparsely populated areas and having to travel long distances to seek medical care — particularly for patients with chronic illnesses. It also addresses the issue of the lack of medical specialists in remote areas.
Action 3 - Inform the community of low-cost programs to connect to the internet
These programs may be from local providers, future state programs or current federal programs.
The liaison office should take the lead on providing information to learn digital skills and programs to the community, but other organizations can host classes. Examples of partners include Wharton County Chamber of Commerce and Agriculture, El Campo Chamber of Commerce, Wharton County Junior College, and the Wharton County Library System, for example.
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/
Broadband Emergency Benefit: https://www.fcc.gov/broadbandBenefit
Telehealth information: https://connectednation.org/programs/telehealth-summit
This is easier said than done, but the survey participants made this clear: Speed is a barrier in Wharton County. Wharton County must do what it can to help providers increase speeds. Current FCC definition of broadband is 25 Mbps download/ 3 Mbps upload. Wharton County has 3,102 households considered unserved at this speed. Wharton County’s goal should be all households meeting or exceeding the FCC’s definition of broadband by 2026.
Action 1 - Relationships with providers must be a priority for Wharton County
Decisions as to where new infrastructure is deployed and where improvements in local services need to be made should be agreed upon by both parties. Different grants/awards/loans have been and will be awarded to providers, end users, and government bodies, and these assets should be used to the benefit of the residents.
Action 2 - Advise your businesses, residents, and public safety entities how to test their speeds and see if the advertised speeds match the actual speeds
Present this information to your providers for help to make sure you are receiving stated services.
The liaison office should have a list of all providers working in Wharton County with contact information.
Test your speed: https://connectednation.org/statewide-impacts/connected-nation-texas
Link to Wharton County providers: https://s3.amazonaws.com/connected-nation/d9e1f3c6-cf0a-49ef-a91d-d9b37f658102/TX_BroadbandProviders_ByCounty_2022_01_31.pdf