AMARILLO, Texas (KAMR/KCIT) — Texas Comptroller Glenn Hegar stopped in Amarillo on Thursday for information on internet access in the area.
The Grand Plaza tour of the Amarillo Civic Center was part of Hegar’s 12-community listening tour to learn about broadband connectivity as Texas Broadband Development Office is working on the development of the state’s first broadband plan.
“In the last legislative session, the Legislature created the Texas Broadband Development Office which reports to the Office of the Comptroller,” Hegar said. “Part of that is trying to make sure that we connect 3 million citizens across the state of Texas who have absolutely no internet connectivity to broadband access, but also making sure that those who have a service that may not have a very good service, how can we improve this service across the state of Texas. »
During the pandemic, Hegar said people were talking about the importance of having internet connectivity for rural economic development, as well as development opportunities in different parts of the state.
“What we have all learned over the past two years is also telemedicine, access to care. It’s a matter of access to public education, to higher education, and really. people to have an economic opportunity across the state of Texas,” Hegar said.
He said the listening tour will continue through April as they develop a plan to roll out $500 million from the Texas Legislature, as well as future federal dollars for internet capabilities across the state.
“We are still waiting for the federal government to tell us exactly how much money. So it’s a significant amount of money,” he added. “So how do we deploy that money in the most cost-effective way to connect the most Texans?”
Hegar said once Texans are online, they will focus on improving internet speeds.
“This century’s road network is internet access and so we’re going to have to continue to make sure that we work to maintain those speeds and make sure that we have duplication of effort for emergency management, when there’s unfortunately a disaster to make sure emergency management also has this access.
He also said his office is working to map internet access across the state as more Texans go online, which will be publicly available.
“It’s taxpayers’ money we’re deploying for this effort,” Hegar said of the mapping project. “So we want to make sure everything we do is open, transparent, because it’s your money.”
Also at Thursday’s listening meeting, State Rep. Ken King (R-District 88), who helped create the Texas Commission on Virtual Education after seeing many children struggle with learning online during the pandemic.
“There were a number of reasons why they failed. Connectivity was definitely part of it,” Rep. King said. “And virtual education is not going away. It will be part of our program from now on.
The City of Amarillo has also launched its own broadband project called Connect Amarillo to provide low-cost Internet access to as many as 10,000 students and low-income residents in underserved areas.
“Our partnership with the National Broadband Office will really help us scale this project and make it effective, not just as Amarillo, but across the Panhandle,” said Rich Gagnon, city general manager and CIO. of Amarillo.
Within the city limits, Gagnon said they just posted a purchase request, which is part of any municipality’s buying process.
“We are looking for a public-private partnership to deploy broadband services in areas of our city that currently do not have adequate broadband,” Gagnon said. This will culminate in a request for proposals process. We will close in about six weeks, then we will select our private partners. Once it’s selected, and we’ve agreed to a contract, it will immediately begin rolling out services across the city.
Co-owner and vice president of operations at AW Broadband, Adair Winter, said the data to report broadband speeds is historically inaccurate, and in many areas companies don’t cover the speeds they claim. .
He said: “They’re using blankets to say, ‘Well, we’re in this area. So we’re just going to say we cover that speed whether it’s actually factual or not.
“We see it all over the Panhandle and, frankly, in some of the areas around Amarillo, which are very rural,” Winter said. “It looks like there is already adequate service there when in fact there isn’t. So that’s the biggest fight that I think we have at the government level is the fact that we don’t have accurate data, and so when we’re fighting for those government funds, we can’t access it because they look like they already covered.
Hegar said that after learning about internet connectivity in different communities, his office will come back and hold focus groups on specific issues, including the percentage of people who cannot afford the necessary internet connectivity.
“We’re looking to make sure we all know where those pockets are and try to find solutions through partnerships,” Hegar said. “…bringing people together is hard work, however, you will achieve a much more productive outcome with these partnerships.”