Internet connections looking to be made more available in rural East Texas

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Most of us have to have internet access these days for work and for our homes. For those living in some rural areas reliable internet is still a problem.

Now lawmakers in Texas are hoping to plug everyone in.

20 years ago, the internet was mainly a luxury but today it’s no longer just a source of entertainment.

“The internet is a necessity, it’s how we do business, it’s how we communicate, it’s how we talk to our families and friends,” said State Rep. Travis Clardy. “If you’ve ever misplaced your cell phone it’s like having your hand cut off, it is so much part of what we do and how we communicate.”

To many in the workforce that connection has to be reliable. And for students, it’s an essential part of their education.

For those living in some rural areas, it’s nearly impossible to keep up with the ever-evolving digital age.

In Nacogdoches County, where even cell service is sparse, the school district is fortunate with access to reliable internet.

“As (for) the community, not so much,” said Brady Taylor, Woden ISD Superintendent.

“Our community struggles with internet service, there’s not a lot of quality out there right now.”

Because of this, Taylor and Woden ISD are very limited to what kind of work they can send students home with.

“Expecting the kids to have any kind of access to the internet at home to do their homework or research or anything like that is definitely tough ,” said Taylor.

Limited access means limited opportunity, especially for those taking dual credit classes.

“That delivery is some cases requires broadband,” said Anthony Espinoza, SFA Chief Information Officer. “And we have residents and students in our East Texas region that don’t have that access at the moment.”

State representatives Doc Anderson from Waco and Travis Clardy from Nacogdoches, who are the chair and vice-chair of the Rural Caucus respectively, have co-authored a bill in the house to bring broadband to rural Texas.

“There’s some common-sense ways to do that and so one of the things we do is to use the existing TxDot easements to throw down those lines or use the co-op easements to run the lines,” said Rep. Clardy.

H.B. 2422 and 2423 would have TxDot lay lines down and county co-ops run other lines respectively.

State Senator Robert Nichols from Jacksonville created a similar bill in the Senate, and his would also have county co-ops run lines.

Representative Clardy said multiple bills with the same idea is not unusual. A simple solution for a complex problem.

Like LBJ bringing electricity to the hill country in the late 1930s.

“Back in the day Lyndon Johnson, growing up in West Texas…all the power lines were beginning to be developed and they were going over the heads of people in rural Texas to develop energy in the urban areas,” said Rep. Clardy. “That didn’t seem right to him then, it doesn’t seem right to me now that have this wonderful thing we call the internet and access to information that’s readily available in the urban areas but not so much in the rural areas. It’s there but it’s slower and we need to make sure we equalize that access.”

That change 80 years ago brought rural Texas into the modern age, state lawmakers believe the rural broadband bill will do the same.

“That’s what this is about, I want to make sure the kids in Woden, or New Summerfield, or Tatum, or Rusk or wherever they may be in House District 11 to have the same opportunity to learn, get information and have an opportunity to make themselves better,” said Rep. Clardy.

As education expands to the digital realm, rural broadband access to higher education becomes not only more convenient but more abundant.

“SFA has made a commitment to supporting online delivery of our educational programs, we’ve grown that 40% over the last year and we plan to continue that,” said Espinoza. “So this type of legislation, this type of support from the legislature is critical to the success of not only SFA but of our residents in East Texas.”

Representative Anderson’s bill and Senator Nichols bill both have passed and signed by Gov. Abbott.

Senator Nichols bill, regarding county co-ops, will be effective immediately and Representative Anderson’s bill, regarding TxDot easements, will be effective September 1st.

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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