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Analysis: A digital divide with dire consequences for Texas

The following was published in the Texas Tribune on April 1, 2020
by Ross Ramsey 

The new coronavirus has forced Texans online for education, commerce, work and entertainment. But a third of the state's residents don't have broadband in their homes.

When Anderson County told residents not to assemble in groups with more than 10 people, officials got some pushback from churches. County Judge Robert Johnston said that was partly because residents wanted to meet on Sundays like they always have, but it was partly because they don’t have a way to meet online. “A lot of this county has no internet service,” he said.

Many jobs can’t be done from home. That often includes work that could be done remotely — if only the computers and networks were available. And it’s a particular problem in rural Texas, which lags far behind the rest of the state in access to the internet that many urban and suburban Texans take for granted.

It’s a problem in metropolitan areas of the state, too, but for a different reason: Computers and broadband are expensive.

At times, not having broadband is just an inconvenience. It would be nice to have Netflix or Hulu, maybe, but not essential. But when the people running your city or county tell you to stay home and work from there, or when the schools close and offer classes only online, internet access becomes a necessity.

Most of the state’s households — 94%, according to a preliminary report from Connected Nation Texas, a nonprofit focused on broadband access and adoption in the state — have access to at least a minimum level of broadband internet. That’s about a half-million households without access, according to Jennifer Harris, the organization’s state program director; about 440,000 of the Texas households without access to broadband are in rural Texas.

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