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Still Buffering: East Texas Say Internet Service Available to Them is Too Slow, Too Expensive

The below article was published by Tyler Morning Telegraph on April 7, 2019
by Erin Mansfield 

Editor's Note
This is part two of a five-part series about how a lack of connectivity affects East Texans.
Part 1: East Texas lags the rest of the state in broadband
Part 2: Rural libraries fill the broadband void
Part 3: Some East Texans say broadband is too slow and too expensive
Part 4: How a federal grant helped
Part 5: A decade of work has gone into broadband grant seeking.

5c9e414299144 Image 300x200 Keith Sweeden, 20, checks his internet connection on the Roku TV he shares with his girlfriend, Maddie Regalado, 22, and her family in Golden on Thursday March 29, 2019. Sweeden does not pay for internet service, but uses the hot spot on his cell phone instead to connect to internet-based services like Netflix. (Sarah A. Miller/Tyler Morning Telegraph)

MINEOLA, TX —Mike Holbrook refuses to buy internet service for his home.

Holbrook, 60, has lived in the outskirts of Wood County for 14 years. He has access to a high-speed internet provider, but he said he’d rather not bother with it.

“We’re unplugged, and it’s nice,” Holbrook said. “I’m not spending an awful lot of time just sitting there surfing channels. I read a lot.”

Holbrook is not alone. Millions of people across Texas choose not to buy internet service for their homes for reasons including availability, cost and general disinterest in the product.

Texas ranks No. 38 in in the nation for its rate of people who subscribe to broadband service, according to a 2018 report by Connected Nation. Fewer than 36 percent of households in the state had broadband as of 2017.

“The monthly cost of a broadband subscription is the primary barrier to adoption for one-third of currently disconnected households,” the report said. Another 12 percent said the data plan on their smartphone was enough, and 10 percent said computers were too expensive.

The lowest-cost internet plan Holbrook can buy would be $75.95 for 6 megabits per second (Mbps) of downloading speed. It would cost $85.95 for 10 Mbps of downloading speed, or $95.95 for 20 Mbps of downloading speed.

The price would go down if he bundled his internet with his cable, but he can’t get cable. Nonetheless, all of those speeds are less than the Federal Communications Commission’s definition of broadband, 25 Mbps downloading speed and 3 Mbps uploading.

Connected Nation identifies this as a problem for the local economy, and recommends that Texas start a campaign to encourage people to subscribe to broadband, offer training classes and provide information on low-cost options.

“In the first decade of the millennium, rural counties with home internet adoption rates lower than 40 percent lost more businesses and more jobs than counties with higher rates of adoption,” the report said, and “income grew faster and unemployment grew slower in rural counties with home internet adoption rates higher than 60 percent.”

But consumers in East Texas are generally lower-income than their counterparts in the state or other parts of the country; they report higher costs for internet connection than the national average; and the speeds available are slower than the Federal Communications Commission’s minimum standard for broadband.

The median income for a Texas household in 2017 was $57,051, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. All but one of 41 counties in the East Texas region had lower median household incomes that year. The numbers were as low as $32,394 in San Augustine County.

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