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Burnet County wants its share of broadband internet funding

Burnet County Connected

An excerpt from a presentation on broadband service in the county by Burnet County Connected illustrates the disparity in high-speed internet service among neighboring counties. Courtesy image

Connected Burnet County is advocating for some of the hundreds of millions of government funds designated for high-speed internet infrastructure.

The organization’s Herb Krasner gave a presentation about the future of broadband internet in Burnet County during the Commissioners Court meeting Thursday, June 30.

“This really got started out of my own frustration with not being able to get connected up in my own neighborhood,” Krasner said. 

He formed the organization with Burnet County commissioners Damon Beierle and Joe Don Dockery.

The goal is to get Burnet County to the top of the funding list. Money would mostly come from the federal government.

Krasner’s presentation to the Commissioners Court revealed that Burnet County has significantly lower percentages of broadband connectivity relative to most of its neighboring counties. According to surveys from Connected Nation Texas, only 57 percent of Burnet County has access to broadband internet. “Broadband” is a term used to describe high-speed internet access. It is generally akin to at least a 100-megabits-per-second (Mbps) download speed and a 10Mbps upload speed. Neighboring counties Travis, Williamson, Blanco, and Lampasas all have 80- to 99-percent broadband connectivity, while Llano County has only 22 percent.

The lack of broadband infrastructure in Texas gained attention during the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, when students and employees working from home lacked adequate internet access, especially in rural areas. The Texas Broadband Development Office was created in June 2021 to facilitate a statewide initiative to bring broadband to all Texans. On June 15, 2022, the TBDO released the 2022 Texas Broadband Plan, which laid out a roadmap for future broadband development.

According to graphs presented by Krasner on the current state of broadband infrastructure in Burnet County, high-speed internet cable runs along the major highways of the county. The goal of Connect Burnet County is to bring broadband to the underserved areas of the county by using the existing broadband infrastructure, building partnerships with other organizations and service providers, and establishing a strategy for acquiring grants from the TBDO.

“The digital highway is already there,” said Krasner regarding the current major broadband cables across Burnet County. “What we don’t have are the county roads and the streets.”

The most difficult and expensive part of providing broadband to all of Burnet County will be reaching residents who are farther from the major cables along the highway.

The TBDO is managing over $500 million in funds that was allocated to Texas from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) to upgrade the state’s broadband infrastructure. ARPA is a $1.9 trillion economic stimulus package signed by President Joe Biden in March 2021 to provide support to communities suffering from the economic impact of  COVID-19. 

This is just the beginning of possible public funding for broadband infrastructure. The Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act and the Digital Equity Act could potentially add hundreds of millions of dollars to the funding pool in the near future.

Grant applications for Texas Broadband Development Office funds will be accepted starting in the fall of 2022, and Connected Burnet County is working to prepare the county for the application process through additional internet service surveys and by building relationships at the TBDO.

“I think it’d be great if we could position ourselves to be a poster county,” said Burnet County Judge James Oakley.

Oakley stressed the importance of providing equitable broadband service to everyone in Burnet County.

“It’s almost like bringing candy into a classroom. You have to bring enough for everybody,” he said.