County committee seeks broadband funding

A Young County Broadband Committee released a plan to remedy deficits in local broadband speed, adoption rates, and access as $1.5 billion in state funds become available for that purpose. The committee, headed by County Judge Win Graham, released the four-point plan two weeks before Texas voters approved the creation of the Broadband Infrastructure Fund, a historic expenditure that is designed to connect the 7 million or so rural Texas residents with no access to broadband service. The amendment creating the fund passed by xx percent in the Nov. 7 election.

The plan, developed with the nonprofit Connected Nation Texas and the Priddy Foundation and announced on Oct. 26, sets four goals to better connect county residents, business owners, community organizations, schools, and others to high-speed internet broadband at no cost to the County, Judge Graham said.

“We have spent months doing our due diligence,” Judge Graham said. “We have collected data from a countywide survey of residents, business owners, community organizations, education leaders, and others to identify the gap in our internet and technology services across the county.”

The data shows that Young County residents pay an average of $78.44 per household for broadband service, slightly below the $78.45 statewide average. About 55 percent of Young County residents who don’t have broadband service say it is not available at their location, while 33 percent of households without broadband said it is too expensive, the survey showed. The County has slightly better availability of mobile broadband, with 69.9 percent of households subscribing compared with 68.5 percent of all Texas communities, the survey showed.

In Young County, 68 percent of households subscribe to download speeds faster than 25 megabytes per second [Mbps], and most households reported average download speeds of 129 Mbps, the survey showed.

Judge Graham described the survey as “a critical step so that we could do our best to ensure those who live and work in Young County had a voice in developing this plan.”

The project is designed as a regional effort to help local communities develop effective plans for tackling their unique challenges and opportunities for expanding broadband (high-speed internet) access, adoption, and use.

The four goals are: 1. Establish central leadership in Young County as a tool for economic and community development.

2. Increase broadband access and reliability across Young County.

3. Increase broadband adoption and use among Young County residents by promoting reduced-cost internet plans and subsidy programs.

4. Ensure that Young County residents and businesses have access to digital literacy to improve outcomes in business, public safety, workforce readiness, and quality of life.

The full Young County Technology Action Plan can be found at this link: https://connectednation. org/community-engagements/ young-county-texas.

Expanding broadband in Texas has been an ongoing mission since the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted disparities in the state, according to the Texas Tribune. In the 2021 session, the Legislature established the Broadband Development Office, which released its broadband development map earlier this year, the Tribune said. The maps showed that urban areas are well connected to broadband service while rural areas have slow service or none at all.