The State of Texas is notorious for pitting communities against one another. This time around, it's the little town versus the big city in the funding arena to improve Internet access.
Last week, Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar kicked off his Texas Broadband Listening Tour 2022, scheduled to take place at 12 different locations statewide. The goal of his stakeholder listening tour is to collect feedback for Texas' newly created broadband development office and how the state should spend a once-in-a-generation windfall of federal resources to close the digital divide. Great news for a state the size of Texas with 29 million residents, right? It depends on where you live. The majority of the communities hosting a public forum are smaller communities. Remember the Alamo? Not Heger's office. Dallas and Austin made the list of stops, but San Antonio and Houston, with some of the state's highest populations, didn't make the cut for the tour.
Texas has both unserved and underserved communities living on the wrong side of the digital divide. From 8-80 years old, residents and businesses throughout rural, suburban, and urban communities are all harmed by the lack of community broadband infrastructure, unaffordable connectivity services, and digital discrimination.
We applaud the approach of public officials doing listening tours. However, we are deeply concerned that many states - red and blue - will ignore the needs of urban residents while focusing solely on solutions for rural areas. We laid this out more broadly in a policy brief we published last year. We can ensure everyone has high-quality Internet access, but we need to make sure that is the explicit goal.
If you'd like to participate in Texas' broadband listening tour, but you live too far to attend in person, a handy online survey is available until May 5, 2022, here. Virtual event information is currently unavailable.
What else can your community do to close the digital divide?