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.
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.
As part of the 2022 engagement with CN Texas, Kaufman County stakeholders spanning education, government, health care, business, public safety, agriculture, and technology came together for a countywide broadband engagement. With a diverse broadband team, Kaufman County was able to collect a diverse sample of surveys, truly capturing the community’s connectivity and communication profile.
Broadband remains a hot topic in the state of Texas and across the country. With the once-in-a-generation infusion of money coming from federal and state governments, it is paramount that Kaufman County establishes a formal broadband committee to ensure (1) the work completed as part of this local engagement is carried forth and (2) the community is staying on the top the of state, local, and federal broadband happenings. A standing group of leaders is already active in the broadband space; it’s a matter of making it official.
Establish a permanent broadband team in Kaufman County that can serve as the go-to point of contact for questions, meetings, and projects.
Action 1 – Create a permanent Kaufman County broadband committee with leaders from each community sector.
Kaufman County should establish a local network of leaders who are passionate about improving broadband throughout the community. This group should function as a supervisor of broadband progress throughout the county and the cities within it. The committee should include representatives from each community sector that participated in the survey.
Board of advisor members could include:
- Health Care: Local physicians or hospital staff (Texas Health Kaufman) and local physicians serving in private practice (e.g., veterinarians, dentists, primary care physicians)
- Government: County Judge, County Commissioners, Mayor, City Council, County IT Director
- Education (K-12): Superintendents, School IT Directors: Crandall ISD, Forney ISD, Kaufman ISD, Kemp ISD, Terrell ISD, Mabank ISD, Scurry-Rosser ISD
- Education (Higher Education): Trinity Valley Community College, Southwestern Christian College
- Public Safety: Sheriff’s Office, Police and Fire Departments, Emergency Management
- Agriculture: County Agriculture Agent, leading agriculture producers
- Business: Local chamber of commerce and economic development centers
- Community At-Large: A local resident who is interested in furthering the broadband agenda of Kaufman County
The responsibilities of the committee should include:
- Identify a chairperson to lead the broadband committee. The chair is responsible for overseeing committee activities and executing the county’s broadband vision in accordance with committee participation.
- Stay up to date on state and federal broadband legislation.
- Apply for applicable state and federal grant programs.
- Ensure digital engagement in Kaufman County in all community sectors (telehealth, telework, online learning, Wi-Fi in businesses, etc.).
- Attend workshops, webinars, meetings, and general trainings that discuss broadband specifically and telecommunications generally.
- Provide digital literacy and digital skills assistance to at-risk populations in the community.
- Participate in regular meetings. The committee should meet at least once a month. Meetings can be held virtually, in-person, or in a hybrid capacity to accommodate needs of members. 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 Kaufman County.
Action 2 – Create a 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. Online materials should include resources related to digital literacy, digital skills, reduced-cost broadband offerings in the county, public computing centers, and other relevant information for residents and internet service providers (ISPs).
Action 3 – Track state and national broadband policy.
The broadband committee 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 committee should coordinate ongoing community outreach efforts and initiatives in alignment with the long-term objectives of the aforementioned entities. The broadband committee should mirror the successes and objectives laid out by the state. Taking advantage of federal and state funding as it becomes available will position Kaufman County to increase digital opportunities for all residents.
Community anchor institutions: libraries, schools, nonprofits, etc.; local businesses; internet service providers; local units of government; community residents
Digital literacy means having the skills you need to live, learn, and work in a society where communication and access to information is increasingly through digital technologies like internet platforms, social media, and mobile devices. It requires both cognitive and technical skills. Kaufman County businesses reported that nearly one-third of their employees (32.9%) are advanced technology users and need advanced technology skills for their jobs. Yet, when asked how well the current technology skills of their workers match the needs of the organization, 36% of businesses said the current workforce matches their needs only “poorly” or “fairly well.” This reflects the need for residents to focus on increasing their technology skills. Ultimately, digital literacy is paramount to competitiveness in the workforce, to community development in an uber-digital society, and to general quality of life (e.g., telehealth and teleworking).
Furthermore, data reflect a large legion of teleworkers in Kaufman County: 73.6% of employed survey respondents indicate they telework in some capacity. With telework on the rise across the country, it is important that residents not only have a reliable internet connection to complete their work, but the digital skills to compete in the workforce.
As one resident said, “I need my phone to work around the neighborhood and town so I can do my side job as a DoorDash driver. With the internet not working around town, I can not do that job.” Another resident reported her struggles with telework, saying, “Working full time from home without a reliable ISP has been nothing short of difficult. … Having to use our mobile hotspot has put us in a position where we have to carefully watch how much data we use so our internet doesn’t slow down. My husband and I both work full time from home.”
The newly formed Kaufman County broadband committee should partner with local stakeholders to put on community workshops with workforce development and digital literacy-focused curriculum.
Action 1 – Model best practices from other communities on digital skills building.
Writing for CNET, Marguerite Reardon says, “It will take more than infrastructure to get rural and tribal communities online.” What “more” is she referring to? Digital skills. Community organizations across the state and the country have worked tirelessly during the pandemic to bridge the Digital Divide, specifically as it relates to digital literacy. Examples include the Orleans Digital Literacy Initiative in Buffalo, N.Y.; the Digital Literacy Coaches and Navigator Program in Wisconsin; Opportunity Las Cruces with the local Economic Development Department and Workforce Development and Career Center; the Skills Enhancement Initiative with the Texas Workforce Commission; Digital literacy certification and computer training in Plainfield, N.J.; and Senior Connect in Austin, Texas. Each program is unique, but their underlying current is the drive to provide free digital training and support to the community. The hope is that residents will be able to use the internet with ease and greater confidence after engaging with one of these local initiatives. To learn more, please reference the links in the resource section below.
Developing curriculum for workforce development and digital literacy courses is underway across the state of Texas and the country. It’s likely that organizations in Kaufman County already have basic curriculum prepared for such workshops. CN Texas is among the organizations offering these services across the state. If your community is interested in learning more, please contact your Broadband Solutions Manager for further details about our ongoing work.
Action 2 – Partner with community stakeholders for workshop execution.
Industry leaders can speak to the importance of broadband in their line of work, as well as discuss a myriad of uses. The more residents, businesses, and community institutions understand the positive benefits of broadband, the greater the likelihood of adoption and use. A banker can discuss the benefits of online banking, while the school IT Director can discuss the importance of online safety. Kaufman County already has the resources (be it personnel or curriculum) to deliver quality programs to the community.
- Workforce Solutions of North Central Texas
- North Central Texas Council of Governments
- Chambers of commerce and economic development corporations (EDCs)
- Riter C. Hulsey Public Library, Kaufman County Library, Tri-County Library (Mabank), Crandall-Combine Community Library
- Community and faith-based organizations: Goodwill, United Way, local churches, etc.
Workshop topics to consider:
- Intro to Microsoft Office Suite
- About: Train employees on the basics of Microsoft Office Suite, given its ubiquitous use in companies/industries.
- Who: Chamber of commerce and EDC
- How to Teleconference
- About: What is telework, and why is it appealing for employees and employers?
- Who: Chamber of commerce and EDC
- Intro to social media and websites
- About: How can an online presence help business grow and improve productivity?
- Who: Chamber of commerce and EDC
- Telehealth 101
- About: Discuss terminology commonly associated with telemedicine and the benefits of virtual health care.
- Who: Local hospital/medical professionals
- Online Safety Tips and Tricks
- About: Discuss how to keep you, your family, and your information safe online
- Who: Police or Sheriff’s Department
- Continuing-Education Opportunities
- About: What programs, courses, and classes are available for students who would like to continue learning beyond the classroom? What resources are available for residents who would like to return to college, obtain a certification or GED, or complete continuing-education courses?
- Who: Crandall ISD, Forney ISD, Kaufman ISD, Kemp ISD, Terrell ISD, Mabank ISD, Scurry-Rosser ISD, private and charter schools
Residents; local units of government; community organizations; businesses; internet service providers
Digital literacy and workforce development programs are important in the here and now. Classes should be offered by Spring 2023. Curriculum should be reviewed and updated every three to four months.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) defines broadband as a 25 Mbps download speed by 3 Mbps upload speed connection. In Kaufman County, survey results indicate 65% of households subscribe to advertised download speeds faster than 25 Mbps. Residents were prompted to either (1) self-report the broadband speed they subscribe to from their internet provider or (2) take a speed test through the survey portal. Data revealed that, on average, Kaufman County residents have a downloaded speed of 187.8 Mbps; however, 56.5% of internet-connected household respondents indicated they were dissatisfied with their current internet service. The top reasons for dissatisfaction were an unreliable connection and slow speeds. To better understand this dissatisfaction, Kaufman County should investigate the infrastructure landscape of the community to identify where service is available and where it is not. Understanding the gaps in infrastructure allows a community to accurately seek out funding.
Support and expand fast, reliable high-speed internet within Kaufman County.
Action 1 – Consider conducting a targeted broadband field validation study.
As Kaufman County seeks to bring better connectivity to residents, it is important to know what internet service providers (ISPs) serve the community and where their infrastructure is located. Accordingly, Kaufman County should consider conducting a field validation study. This would entail locating, identifying, and documenting targeted wireline platforms such as digital subscriber line (DSL), hybrid fiber coaxial (HFC), fiber-to-the-home (FTTH), middle-mile fiber optic transport lines, and fixed wireless transmit locations, mapping infrastructure assets and provider service boundaries. Such work would allow the community to accurately assess and map known broadband speeds and delivery platforms.
Action 2 – Consider public-private partnerships.
Public-private partnerships (P3s) take many forms, depending on the needs and resources of each community. The strength of these partnerships is that each party brings something important to the table that the other lacks or can not easily acquire. For example, Kaufman County can offer infrastructure (publicly owned buildings, light poles, towers, other vertical assets for mounting fixed wireless or wireline infrastructure) for the deployment of a network, as well as guaranteeing committed anchor tenants and possible funding sources. A public-private partnership does not have to be financial in nature. For example, Kaufman County can work with local ISPs to promote the Affordable Connectivity Program for qualifying households. More information about the program can be found in Goal 4.
- 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, and several others listed at https://connectednation.org/current-broadband-funding/. New revenue streams are likely to become 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 to businesses and/or homes for leasing to private ISPs.
Action 3 – Monitor funding sources and identify grant writers for upcoming grant opportunities.
Kaufman County should monitor funding opportunities at the state and federal level that promise money for broadband expansion and improvement projects. Application windows are historically very brief, and application reviews very competitive, thus making it very important for communities, especially rural ones, to have smart, well-written applications with supporting data ready to go. It’s not only important to be prepared in advance of an application, but it’s important to prioritize forward and long-term thinking when applying for funding. In preparation for potential grant opportunities, the county should acquire an in-house or contract grant writer who can accurately capture the needs and wants of Kaufman County residents, businesses, and community leaders in writing.
Funding sources include:
- The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA)
- The landmark IIJA, signed into law in November 2021, promises $65 billion for broadband. These funds will be used in a variety of different ways, but the largest share is designated for the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program. BEAD funding will be allocated to states that, in turn, will be responsible for doling it out according to a set plan.
- Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds
- Under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery funds provide emergency funding for states and eligible local governments across the nation. Local governments in Texas received $10.5 billion from the Local Fiscal Recovery Fund. These funds are administered by the U.S. Treasury and can be used to make necessary investments in broadband infrastructure. The Treasury Department issued its Final Rule on January 6, 2022, expanding the use of funds for broadband. County leaders should reference the Treasury’s website for official details.
- Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund (CPF)
- Under the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, the CPF provides $10 billion to eligible governments to carry out critical capital projects that directly enable work, education, and health monitoring. The Texas State Legislature appropriated all the funding from the CPF for broadband purposes. The Broadband Development Office (BDO) plans to stand up a competitive grant process to support local broadband projects around the state. More information can be found on the BDO’s website (linked below).
Additional information about federal funding sources can be found here: BroadbandUSA. As new federal opportunities become available, this link will be updated.
Additional information about state funding sources can be found here: Broadband Development Office. As new opportunities become available, this link will be updated.
Local units of government; internet service providers; community/regional organizations
Kaufman County leaders should begin meeting with internet service providers within three months of receiving this plan. Increasing broadband speeds and reliability will increase the number of opportunities for residents, businesses, educators, and community leaders. Grant writing activities should commence as applicable opportunities arise.
Households without an internet connection face many barriers to obtaining connectivity. In Kaufman County, 25.3% of residents who do not subscribe to home broadband service stated it was because service is too expensive. Everyone deserves to be online, regardless of income level. It’s important to promote free and reduced-cost internet programs for residents like this one who shared on the survey, “I need [an] internet service that I can afford because I’m a senior citizen living on a fixed income.”
Increase access, availability, and use of broadband by addressing the cost barriers in Kaufman County.
Action 1 – Promote programs that help residents overcome the affordability barrier to broadband adoption, including Lifeline and the Affordable Connectivity Program.
- State 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 Lifeline discount for qualifying low-income customers may be up to $12.75 per month, depending on the services a resident subscribes to and the customer’s eligibility. Lifeline service is non-transferrable and is limited to one discount per household. More information can be found on the Public Utility Commission of Texas’ website.
- The Affordable Connectivity Program: Once known as the Emergency Broadband Benefit, the Affordable Connectivity Program was made permanent with the passage of the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (commonly referred to as the Infrastructure Bill). It provides eligible customers a $30 per month discount on broadband service through participating providers. For more information, visit the FCC’s webpage.