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Texas Counties Getting Federal Broadband-Access Money

The following story was published by Waco Tribune-Herald on July 24,2019
by Mike Copeland 

Robert Fleming raises cattle, wheat and corn in four Central Texas counties. He calls himself a Facebook maniac and said he cherishes his smartphone nearly as much as a summertime rain.

Like many in flyover country, he has invited technology to pull up a chair. He said Tuesday he had not heard Bell County, where he lives, will receive federal funding to improve rural broadband service, but he welcomed the news.

The office of U.S. Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, announced the Federal Communications Commission has allocated nearly $77 million to expand broadband to nearly 34,000 rural homes and businesses statewide.

Locally, AMG Technology Investment Group will receive federal subsidies of more than $2.7 million to enhance broadband service in Bell, Falls, Freestone and Limestone counties. McLennan County did not make the funding list.

FCC spokesman Mark Wigfield said McLennan County was not deemed eligible because its rural and urban areas enjoy adequate broadband access. An FCC map reflecting broadband penetration shows fixed broadband access provided by phone and cable is pegging 100 percent countywide, while mobile access is 100 percent at 5 megabits per second for downloads and 3 megabits per second for uploads, Wigfield said.

“There may be dead spots in the most remote areas of McLennan County,” he said. “There are dead spots in downtown Washington, D.C., if you turn down this alley or that. But indications are all of McLennan County has pretty good access to broadband.”

Nationwide, the FCC last fall allocated $1.48 billion to expand service to more than 700,000 rural residences over the next decade. Earmarking $803 million to 23 states in July puts it beyond the halfway point in the process. Wigfield said the money goes to competing companies via a bidding process.

State Rep. Charles “Doc” Anderson, whose District 56 includes McLennan County, has championed broadband availability beyond the city limits sign. He hosted three town hall meetings on the subject last year.

He said maps the FCC relies on sometimes suffer shortcomings.

“It may be determined that a county is good to go, so to speak, yet it has only a few hundred feet of cable,” Anderson said. “We would prefer mapping at a more granular level. The FCC is involved in a remapping program. It’s a two-year process and incredibly complicated. The state looked into remapping but didn’t want to go it alone. It would be beneficial to get (broadband providers) involved, and they have expressed some willingness, but historically they have been very protective of their information in a competitive environment.”

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