Education and community leaders at all levels of government are coming to a remarkably clear consensus on the importance of access to broadband for education and economic development. In March, Governor Abbott released a statement making Internet access for schools a priority of his administration. The Governor correctly sees the correlation between access to high-speed Internet and student achievement. Broadband is equally important as a tool for economic development for job seekers, small businesses, and professional firms. The U.S. Chamber of Commerce adopted a policy brief in 2015 that states that “The Chamber views broadband as a means to stimulate jobs and foster economic growth.” And for individuals, broadband for basic functions and to connect with resources for lifelong learning is a major quality of life issue.
Unfortunately, Texas lags woefully behind the rest of the country in citizen access to broadband. A recent assessment by Strategic Network Group in partnership with the Rural Telecommunications Conference assigned Texas the lowest overall ranking of any state in the status of providing broadband access. Texas has no statewide broadband office and no committed statewide funding to broadband deployment. Broadband Now ranks Texas as the 46th most connected state. And in 2014, the National Digital Inclusion Alliance determined that Texas has five of the 25 worst connected cities for poor households, including the top two worst: Brownsville and Laredo!
Libraries are in a position to help. Because for 62% of communities, the library is the only place in town that people can to access free Internet, because libraries are the go-to place for the public for and because public libraries can participate in E-Rate discounts that can bring Internet to communities at a fraction of the full market cost. And libraries are at the forefront of efforts to provide broadband access. Consider this article that ran on KUT Radio just this morning about attempts of libraries (featuring the Pflugerville Public Library) to provide access for Texans to broadband: http://kut.org/post/pflugerville-library-wants-bridge-digital-divide-lending-out-wi-fi-hotspots
But again, Texas libraries lag behind. In a speed test conducted by TSLAC this spring, we estimate that 93% of libraries fail to meet the FCC standard for library Internet connectivity.
For these reasons, our Commission has set as a goal to support efforts to ensure digital inclusion for Texas. On June 3, commission members will entertain a discussion of priorities for the next legislative session. Among these priorities will be a discussion of how TSLAC can support greater broadband connectivity for Texas libraries. We expect that our efforts will focus on encouraging and incentivizing libraries to seek E-rate discounts to make high-speed Internet more affordable to more communities.
At the very least we hope to be able to make a case to the Legislature on the important role that libraries can play in this endeavor that has such important consequences for Texas and Texans.
Strategic Networks Group, “The 50 States of Broadband,” April 4, 2016: http://sngroup.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/04/50-States-of-Broadband-final-report.pdf
U.S. Chamber of Commerce policy brief on broadband: https://www.uschamber.com/issue-brief/broadband
Pell Center, “State-Level Broadband Policy,” September 2015, http://pellcenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/09/State-Level-Broadband-Policy-FINAL.pdf