by Jason Bagley and A.J. Rodriguez
Industry leaders, educators, policy makers and numerous other stakeholders have long recognized the importance of broadband and the need to provide access. While digital connectivity has certainly expanded, gaps in access and adoption persist. For the past year, access to broadband determined whether people could work from home, connect with family and friends, access health care, attend school, and take advantage of other important services. Unfortunately, far too many Texans —in both urban and rural communities — continue to lack access to the information and infrastructure necessary to fully participate in the digital era. This can no longer be acceptable.
By unanimously passing SB 5 and HB 5, two bills endorsed by Digital Texas that will expand broadband access across the state, the Texas legislature took a meaningful step toward closing the digital divide. The timing of this legislation is crucial as over 5 million Texans still do not have broadband subscriptions at home, severely impacting their education and livelihoods.
Earlier this year, the Texas Education Agency found that only 29% of Texas 3rd graders meet grade level in reading; only 15% of Texas 4th graders meet grade level in math; and only 12% of Texas 5th graders meet grade level in science. This finding comes six months after the Texas Tribune reported that, going into the pandemic, 30% of Texas public school students had access to adequate technology for online learning. Broadband is no longer a luxury, it is an essential service.
There is a clear need to expand broadband infrastructure to communities across Texas, and to help underserved residents access the technologies necessary to learn, work, communicate and receive the healthcare, education and other critical services they need to achieve their full potential.
Intel understands that technology can help solve society’s most significant challenges and facilitate greater opportunity. Key to that effort is supporting public policies, public-private partnerships, and coalitions of informed advocates like Digital Texas to make high-quality, high-speed broadband more affordable and accessible.
We commend Governor Abbott, Lt. Governor Patrick, Speaker Phelan, and the state’s lawmakers for prioritizing broadband this session. Passing legislation that creates a state broadband office and closes the digital infrastructure gap is critical to ensuring that all Texans have an equitable opportunity to fully participate in today’s knowledge economy. This includes not only broadband infrastructure, but digital access, adoption, and readiness. We support such efforts and look forward to helping Texas bridge these final barriers to digital inclusion.
Jason Bagley is Senior Director of State Government Relations at Intel. A.J. Rodriguez is Executive Vice President at Texas 2036.