Schools prepare videos, school packets for kids without internet

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BASTROP COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — Connected Nation will release its latest Texas broadband availability maps Friday. The nonprofit updates the maps every six months to analyze the access to high-speed internet across the counties.

In Bastrop County, the broadband map shows there is 100% high-speed internet access under the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) benchmark standards. The FCC defines high-speed internet as 25 megabits per second, but that’s far from fast. For comparison, smartphones nowadays are easily twice as fast as that. In more urban areas, 100 megabits per second is considered average.

In Travis County, almost every resident has access to broadband speeds over 100 megabits per second. However, in Bastrop County, the availability of those speeds sits at 70%, and in other Central Texas counties, it’s even worse.

Despite the maps, which are built using data supplied by internet providers and the FCC, showcasing 100% access to high-speed internet in Bastrop County, some county residents do not have internet access at home. Many have argued they are unable to sign up for internet through local providers.

“On places where we’ve had residents reach out to us that they’ve had a really hard time getting connected and say they’ve called every provider and they’re still not able to get a connection, we’re going to go check and actually see if there is actual infrastructure,” Jennifer Harris, the nonprofit’s state program director said.

The need for internet is evident in some of the county’s school districts. In McDade Independent School District, Superintendent Barbara Marchbanks said roughly 30% of students do not have internet access at home or face connectivity issues. The district is small, a little under 400 students, so about 100 of those students live offline.

“In the cities, people assume everybody has internet,” she said about her neighbors and students who live in the rural part of the county.

When Marchbanks first started at McDade ISD seven years ago, nearly half of the students did not have internet access at home or a stable connection.

“It has greatly improved,” she said.

With COVID-19 cases still high, school districts across the state are moving to virtual learning. McDade ISD will go online for the first four weeks, and could extend that period depending on the latest from health officials.

However, for students in the district who don’t have internet at home or access to a stable internet connection, McDade ISD is reopening the schools.

They only expect about 100 students to attend in-classroom learning. Their goal is to keep those numbers low for everyone’s safety.

School for McDade ISD students starts Aug. 17.

Last week, the nonprofit launched a new initiative with the county. The Bastrop County Broadband Committee is asking the community to fill out a survey. They’ll use the data to develop an action plan. Those who are able to fill out the survey online can do so, but the committee is working to print out surveys. They will be available at county annex offices starting next week.

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