Tag: "texas"

Posted November 9, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

As voters went to the polls yesterday, broadband-focused initiatives and candidates could be found up and down the ballot all across the country.

Alabama

Alabama voters cast their ballots to decide on a state Constitutional amendment known as the Broadband Internet Infrastructure Funding Amendment. The measure sought to amend the state's constitution "to allow local governments to use funding provided for broadband internet infrastructure under the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) and award such funds to public or private entities."

That measure passed, garnering a “Yes” vote from nearly 80 percent of Alabama voters. With 73 percent of the vote counted late last night, 922,145 “Yes” votes had been tallied with 251,441 “No” votes.

Also in Alabama, Democratic U.S. Rep. Terri Sewell won her re-election bid to represent Alabama’s 7th congressional district. Sewell, whose district covers a large swath of the Alabama Black Belt, “spent much of her past two years in office bringing American Rescue Plan Act funds to rural Alabama, dedicated to healthcare, broadband access and infrastructure building,” as noted by The Montgomery Advertiser.

Colorado

The Centennial State is not listed as one of 17 states in the nation with preemption laws that erect barriers to municipal broadband because nearly every community that had a vote has passed it to nullify it. But more communities had to go through that unnecessary process yesterday due to the law known as SB-152 that bans local governments in the state from establishing municipal broadband service absent a referendum.

As of spring 2022, 118 Colorado municipalities, 40 counties and several school districts have...

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Posted September 14, 2022 by Ann Treacy

On the southern border of Texas in the Rio Grande Valley, Pharr Texas is the home of the largest commercial bridge from Mexico into the U.S. Now, the city is working on building an equally impressive virtual bridge to every home in Pharr with the construction of a municipal fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network.

The progression has been steady despite pandemic induced setbacks, as city leaders are determined to solve the connectivity challenges in Pharr by leveraging the assets the city already owns while taking advantage of the unprecedented amount of federal funds now available to help communities expand access to broadband. To that end, the city has created regional partnerships, completed a feasibility study, and launched a pilot project. Now, Pharr officials are moving ahead with the construction of a city-wide municipal network. 

Wake Up Call in Rio Grande Valley

Pharr has a population of almost 80,000 people of which 94 percent identify as Hispanic or Latino with over 30 percent of families living below the poverty line. Their public meetings are often bilingual. But, it was in 2015 that the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas reported that the Rio Grande Valley was on the wrong end of the digital divide. The report also highlighted the impact that had on the communities in the region:

The study involved focus groups with colonia residents. One theme that arose from the conversations with residents was the lack of access to the internet. The report found that the digital divide was a factor preventing residents from accessing regional labor market opportunities. Additionally, the report described the challenges colonia students face in school because of their inability to complete homework assignments due to lack of internet service and computers at home.

When earlier this week ILSR caught up with Jordana Barton Garcia, author of the report, she explained that “colonias” are informal neighborhoods where people live with no (or limited) infrastructure. Residents are sold lots without existing infrastructure, from water to broadband. 

When it comes to broadband, the city is served by AT&T, Spectrum, and T-...

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Posted September 13, 2022 by Ry Marcattilio

This week on the podcast, Christopher is joined by ILSR colleagues Sean Gonsalves (Senior Editor and Communications Team Lead) and DeAnne Cuellar (Outreach Team Lead) for a roundup of recent news. They talk about the release of our new tracking and advocacy tool, the Affordable Connectivity Program dashboard, the pace and speed of the municipal broadband build in Pharr, Texas, pilot program aimed at low-income households in Syracuse, New York, Boulder, Colorado's broadband plan, and Erie County, New York's revived connectivity plan.

This show is 33 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed. You can listen to the interview on this page or visit the Community Broadband Bits page.

Transcript coming soon. 

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

Listen to other episodes here or view all episodes in our index.

Subscribe to the Building Local Power podcast, also from the Institute for Local Self-Reliance, on iTunes or Stitcher to catch more great conversations about local communities, the concentration of corporate power, and how everyday people are taking control.

Thanks to Arne Huseby for the music. The song is Warm Duck Shuffle and is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution (3.0) license.

Posted September 6, 2022 by Ry Marcattilio

This week on the podcast, Christopher is joined by two representatives from Pharr, Texas (pop. 79,000), which has embarked on a citywide fiber-to-the-home (FTTH) network build that is seeing strong local support and fast progress in recent months. Jose Pena is the IT Director for the city, and and Guillermo Aguilar works as a Partner at Brownstone Consultants, which is serving as a project manager for the network build. Jose and Guillerma talk with Christopher about the impetus for TeamPharr, the municipal effort which formally kicked off in 2017 with a feasibility study.

Jose and Guillermo share how the city moved to a fixed wireless pilot project on the southern part of town a few years ago before extending the network to a collection of city parks and then making the commitment to a full citywide buildout in 2020. They detail their early work in the state, which places some barriers in front of communities looking to take their telecommunications future into their own hands, and the help they got from Mont Belvieu (which also runs its own network). Jose and Guillermo share the phenominally fast progress the team has made, from finishing the design phase in September of last year, to connecting the first household in January 2022, to passing 70 percent of premisestoday.They also talk about their work to offer subscribers low pricing tiers ($25 and $50/month for symmetrical 500 Mbps and gigabit service, respectively) and their efforts to help households sign up for the Affordable Connectivity Program.

Check out the videos at the bottom of this story for more about why Pharr undertook the project and the progress the city has made so far.

This show is 40 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed. You can listen to the interview on this page or visit the Community...

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Posted August 26, 2022 by Ann Treacy

Brownsville recently took a Texas-sized step toward the creation of better broadband options for its residents and businesses, as city commissioners voted in late July to enter into a public-private partnership to build a city wide fiber network known as BTX Fiber

As reported by The Brownsville Herald:

At a Wednesday morning ceremony in city commission chambers, Brownsville Mayor Trey Mendez and Brownsville Public Utilities Board CEO and General Manager John Bruciak signed an agreement with Brian Snider, CEO of Lit Communities, that will allow the fiber infrastructure to be completely built out.

The city commission at its July 19 regular meeting approved the public-private partnership between the city, LIT Texas LLC and its subsidiary BTX Fiber, “for the construction, operations and maintenance of city-wide broadband infrastructure, including but not limited to incorporation and approval of a Right of Way and Encroachment Agreement; Engineering, Procurement and Construction Contract; and Middle Mile Connection Agreement and Grant of Indefeasible Rights of Use Agreement.

Wake up call for Brownsville

From the outside it may seem like an overnight success. But, like most stories, the planning started years ago.

Brownsville is located on the Gulf Coast of South Texas and has a population of more than 186,000 people. It also has the distinction of being on the National Digital Inclusion Alliance’s “Worst Connected Cities List” of 2014, 2015, 2018 and 2019, even though the city is served by  AT&T, Spectrum, and T-Mobile Home Internet.

When Trey Mendez was elected Mayor of Brownsville in 2019, he knew that...

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Posted August 9, 2022 by Ry Marcattilio

This week on the podcast, Christopher is joined by Greg Conte, Director of the Texas Broadband Development Office, and ILSR Outreach Team Lead DeAnne Cuellar. The state of Texas finds itself in a common position these days: last year it created a small office that, today, is suddenly faced with dispersing more than a billion dollars in new infrastructure funding through the Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment (BEAD) program.

Greg talks about the challenges of staffing up and addressing the lack of data about where broadband is and isn't as a starting point for future work. He shares the process of developing a minimum viable product for mapping as well as the additional goal of integrating digital equity goals and socioeconomic data into a mapping effort. 

Christopher, Greg, and DeAnne then dig into the implications of the new BEAD rules recently clarified by the NTIA, and how to square a mandate not to disciminate against community solutions with a Texas state law which places barriers in front of municipalities. He shares how HB5, passed by the Texas legislature last year, lets nonprofit and for-profit entities apply for funding, but privileges for-profit entities what applications are submitted for the same. The group talks about the balancing act of operating an unequal grant-making marketplace with a charge to efficiently and effectively address the digital divide with historic federal broadband funding.

This show is 32 minutes long and can be played on this page or via iTunes or the tool of your choice using this feed. You can listen to the interview on this page or visit the Community Broadband Bits page.

Transcript coming soon. 

We want your feedback and suggestions for the show-please e-mail us or leave a comment below.

Listen to other episodes here or view all...

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Posted March 9, 2022 by DeAnne Cuellar

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? 

Attend:...

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Posted January 11, 2022 by Sean Gonsalves

While a national debate rages over immigration and the border wall, just 30 miles north of the U.S.-Mexico border, Harlingen city officials are coming together to plan the building of a bridge – across the digital divide deep in the heart of the Rio Grande Valley.

When Harlingen (pop. 75,000) was founded at the turn of the 20th century, it established itself as a prominent commerce and transportation hub – the “Capital of the Rio Grande Valley” at “the crossroads of South Texas.” Over the years, thanks to its fertile delta soil, the cultivation of citrus fruit, grain, and cotton became a major part of the local economy. Today, however, the biggest industry in the second most populous city in Cameron County is healthcare.

As attractive as Harlingen has become to residents and visitors – with its extensive park system and tropical bird-watcher’s paradise (the city happens to be located where two primary avian flyways converge) – one thing the city lacks is adequate access to broadband, which is particularly acute among households with school-aged children.

Pandemic Spurs City into Action

That realization was the impetus behind a recent city commission vote to move forward with a feasibility study to determine how the city might build a broadband network and whether it should rely on fiber, fixed wireless, or a mix of deployment technologies to modernize Harlingen’s telecommunications infrastructure.

“What brought this to our attention was of course the pandemic,” City Manager Gabriel Gonzalez told Valley Central News. “When the school district had to go to virtual learning, we found out that there were students and some families that did not have access to (the) Internet.”

Harlingen city commissioners opted to hire the Houston-based civil engineering firm ConnFendley to conduct a $100,000 feasibility study, the cost of which is being split by the...

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Posted July 26, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Snapshot

New Jersey establishes state committee to strategize deployment of community broadband networks

Louisiana Senate amends bill, opening state grant program to municipally-owned providers

Washington laws expanding municipal authority to provide retail service take effect

The State Scene

New Jersey 

New Jersey Governor Phil Murphy, on July 7, enacted legislation (A.B. 850) establishing a new state committee tasked with evaluating where community broadband networks should be established across the state, by surveying areas where public networks would be most feasible to deploy.

The 19-member Broadband Access Study Commission “will consider the logistics of deploying community broadband networks and report on its findings to the Governor and the Legislature,” reports ROI NJ. “The mission includes completing a comprehensive study of the success and failures of similar networks around the nation, the costs of constructing and maintaining networks, and the costs to subscribers for monthly access.” 

The Commission will also evaluate impediments to broadband access in the state, including those related to physical access, affordability, and digital literacy. After submitting recommendations to the state Governor and Legislature, the committee will dissolve within a year of its first meeting. 

Louisiana 

Louisiana Governor John Bel Edwards recently signed a bill (H.B. 648) allocating $180 million of incoming federal relief funds toward establishing a grant program - open to both public and private broadband providers - aimed at jumpstarting the buildout of Internet infrastructure to unserved communities across the Bayou State. 

Before the bill passed the Louisiana Senate, it was amended to remove an exclusion that would have required local governments using the grants to contract with...

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Posted April 20, 2021 by Jericho Casper

Snapshot

Maryland plans to funnel American Rescue Plan Act funding towards community broadband 

Vermont Governor bolsters House plan backing Communications Union Districts 

A national movement to address digital inclusion ignites

See the bottom of this post for related job openings

 

State Scene

Maryland

Maryland State Governor Larry Hogan made digital equity and literacy a top priority of the state when he signed H.B. 97, the Digital Connectivity Act, into law on April 13. The new law establishes the Office of Statewide Broadband (OSB) within the Maryland Department of Housing and Community Development to create a plan to get all Marylanders connected to affordable, high-speed Internet by 2026. The OSB will also assist in administering $300 million for digital equity initiatives out of the $3.9 billion Maryland received in American Rescue Plan funds. 

The $300 million allocation will be broken down into separate pots of money to address physical infrastructure, affordability, and adoption: $45 million will be for grants that support and expand municipal broadband networks; $75 million for affordability initiatives to subsidize the cost of monthly service fees and devices for eligible residents who are subscribers to private Internet Service Providers (ISPs); and $150 million dedicated to deploy broadband infrastructure and expand connectivity in both urban and rural areas. In addition, $10 million is earmarked for local government and community-based solutions, and $6 million will support adoption initiatives, including $4 million for a new division under the University System of Maryland to develop curriculum on digital literacy and addressing the broadband gap.

Maryland had a state rural broadband office prior to the creation of the new OSB office. The rural broadband office offers support to Maryland’s rural regions attempting to access federal funding opportunities. The new OSB will be dedicated to addressing barriers that address the connectivity challenges Maryland’s suburban and metro residents...

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