More Broadband Means More Opportunity in a More Modern Texas

Less than 100 years ago, too many rural Texas communities were economically isolated from the rest of the world. There were few paved roads connecting them to other towns, cities and markets. They often had to make do without electricity that was a fact of life in other places.

State leaders took action to bring those communities into the 20th century. They built highland lakes and electrification projects, the transformative farm-to-market road system, and modern economies in places that had been denied them.

Today, rural Texas needs the state leaders to take similarly bold and visionary action. Once again, too many communities are economically isolated from rest of the world: they lack the broadband internet service that fires the 21st century economy.

Broadband service has become a gateway to opportunity. Like roads and electricity, it has become basic economic infrastructure. 

About 2 million people across the state lack access to fixed broadband. Rural areas are especially hard-hit: 31 percent of rural Texans do not have any access to basic broadband service. 

Last week, the nonprofit group Connected Nation Texas (CN Texas) released maps showing high-speed internet coverage for all of the state’s 254 counties. These maps spotlight the communities where families and businesses cannot get broadband service. These are essentially opportunity deserts — places cut off from the services and innovation that are driving economic growth today.

That lack of access has become a clear and present economic danger. The state is projected to add 10 million people between now and its bicentennial in 2036, but most of that growth will be concentrated in the triangle between the Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth and San Antonio metropolitan areas. More than half of all Texas counties are actually projected to have zero or negative job growth over the next generation.

The digital divide isn’t limited to rural areas. Five major Texas cities — Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, El Paso, and Corpus Christi — rank among the top 25 large U.S. cities with the “worst connections,” according to census data. That means a quarter or more of their populations do not subscribe to fixed broadband services due to cost or other factors. And statewide, Texas ranks just 38th among the states, with 35 percent of the population not subscribing to fixed internet. 

While this is an obvious problem as Texas approaches its bicentennial in 2036, it also represents a big opportunity. By connecting more people, communities and businesses with this basic infrastructure, we can connect innovators with a world of resources and create untold jobs, economic development and prosperity along the way.