Connecting all of Texas to high-speed internet service will cost roughly $10 billion and will take until 2030 or longer, according to a new state report that spells out hurdles and opportunities of broadband deployment in Texas.
The Texas Broadband Development Office submitted in late August a Five-Year Action Plan for Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment Program (BEAD) implementation to the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, an arm of the U.S. Department of Commerce.
The wide-ranging plan offers a vision for the future of broadband in Texas and highlights steps the state will take to close the digital divide and achieve universal broadband access. The document is a requirement of states receiving federal money under the BEAD program.
The White House announced in June that Texas will receive more than $3.3 billion in federal money – the most of any state – to expand high-speed internet, with the BEAD program allocating more than $42 billion to states and territories. The funding was included in the bipartisan infrastructure bill signed into law in 2021, which AARP played an instrumental role in passing.
The 131-page report -- prepared in collaboration with key stakeholders across the state, including AARP Texas -- details many of the intricacies and barriers of broadband expansion and begins by noting that “the current state of broadband in Texas is as complex as the state is big.”
The current picture finds:
Financial hurdles are key among the challenges ahead.
“The BDO estimates statewide deployment would cost roughly $10 billion and will go into the year 2030 for deployment,” the plan states, adding that the estimate will need to be updated “given the complex and unpredictable nature of the factors involved.”
The Texas plan calls for focusing funding for broadband deployment first on areas where there’s currently no service whatsoever. “Deployment to unserved locations must be prioritized to ensure those without any sufficient connectivity are brought online first. Remaining funds should then be prioritized to underserved locations to close any significant gaps in service quality,” the report states.
Still, expansion of broadband service is not sufficient to close the digital divide, according to the plan.
“For many, the cost of a broadband subscription is either too high or the benefits of broadband do not justify the monthly price tag,” the plan states. To make high-speed internet affordable to more Texans, the plan calls for inclusion of a “low-cost option among service plans” and a state prioritization on low-income consumers, especially those within historically marginalized communities.
Stephanie Mace, an associate state director of advocacy and outreach at AARP Texas who works on broadband access issues, said the report is a comprehensive look at the path ahead for broadband deployment in the Lone Star State.
“Access to reliable high-speed internet service is no longer a luxury and is incredibly important to older Texans and their families,” Mace said. “The state’s five-year plan identifies many of the needs and opportunities associated with much-needed broadband expansion in our state.”
The report covers some of the recent research on broadband in Texas. It notes, for instance, that most rural residents report having at least some internet access, but nearly half of them say their Internet speed is not reliable. It also shows that more effort is needed in Texas to improve digital literacy and to expand use of the internet among certain populations, such as older persons, for everything from accessing healthcare, attaining educational resources to looking for a job.
How people are accessing the internet also is a big topic in the report. More than 1.1 million Texas households only have access to a smartphone. While such devices help people connect to family and internet, “it can prove insufficient as the only device,” the report states. Desktop or laptop computers are more compatible with many online applications and offer improved accessibility for people with disabilities.
Read the report in full here: Texas Broadband Five-Year Action Plan
In related news: Texas To Receive $3.3 billion in Federal Funds To Boost Broadband Expansion Efforts
This story is provided by AARP Texas. Visit the AARP Texas page for more news, events, and programs affecting retirement, health care, and more.