Amid a pandemic, high-speed internet at home has become a necessity for work and school, but many Burnet County residents still lack access. A simple, 10-minute survey could help connect every household.
Connected Nation Texas, an independent organization committed to ensuring every Texan has broadband internet access, is surveying residents to compile data for local and state leaders to address the digital divide. A lack of high-speed internet in communities has been shown to hamper economic growth, educational opportunity, and health care access.
“We’re currently conducting a study in Burnet County to really understand on a deeper level how people use their broadband,” said Jennifer Harris, state program director for Connected Nation Texas. “A unique feature of our survey is that it helps us identify specific areas of that county that have insufficient connectivity so that we can target solutions to close those gaps. After a structured evaluation of this assessment, we’ll then develop appropriate action plans and projects to improve our broadband environment most effectively.”
The survey is divided into several categories: household, business, agriculture, health, higher education, K-12, libraries and organizations, public safety, and government. Those taking the survey should pick which category or categories best fit them.
When people were forced to work and learn from home after the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Harris said it emphasized what Connected Nation had been saying all along: Residential fixed broadband is crucial.
The Federal Communications Commission recognizes high-speed, or broadband, internet service as one that offers a download speed of at least 25 megabits per second and an upload speed of 3 Mbps.
“Broadband is important for every aspect of life,” Harris said. “It improves your quality of life. The folks who took it for granted realize how much more important it is. Much of Texas still isn’t connected.”
Texas ranks 37th out of the 50 states in broadband subscriptions, Harris said. And out of a population of 48,155 in Burnet County, an estimated 6,000 residents don’t have home broadband.
By Connected Nation Texas’ calculations, 88 percent of Burnet County households could have a home broadband download time of 25 Mbps and an upload time of 3 Mbps “if they choose to subscribe,” Harris said.
“The high 80s and 90s (percentage) make it sound really good,” Harris said. “Ninety percent of homes have broadband available regardless of if they could pay or not. But there are 2,059 homes that do not have access. Think of how many kids that is who can’t do their school work or people who can’t do telemedicine. That’s a lot of folks.”
Unlike other necessary household utilities, such as phone, electricity, and water, broadband isn’t regulated by the government because it’s considered a private good, Harris said.
“You can subscribe if you want it,” Harris said. “My thought is a lot of people already do view (broadband as a utility). Whether federal and state governments view it that way is different. The public mindset is a lot of people would consider it a utility.”
With Texas public school districts offering families the option to learn from home, reliable internet access is important.
Marble Falls Independent School District Superintendent Dr. Chris Allen and Burnet Consolidated ISD Superintendent Keith McBurnett said each district has partners that will work to connect families to the internet. The challenge is that some of these families live in areas with little or no access.
The Connected Nation survey, Harris said, is a step toward ensuring every home has high-speed internet access.
“We want to help the communities advocate for themselves,” Harris said. “Let us help you by getting us the data.”