CALDWELL COUNTY, Texas (KXAN) — A bill to give rural areas better internet access has less than a week to pass this legislative session.
Meanwhile, Caldwell County is shedding light on just how important broadband speed is for its community.
According to Connected Nation Texas, a company that tracks and monitors broadband access, Caldwell County is missing out on federal funding. That’s why the group is working with county leaders to change that.
Rural neighbors, like Precinct 1 Commissioner of Caldwell County, B.J. Westmoreland, can tell you first hand how difficult it can be to stay connected.
“When we do have more than one device connected to the internet, there will be streaming issues between the devices,” Westmoreland said.
Westmoreland said one of the biggest challenges he and other rural neighbors face is having a direct line of sight from their dish to the internet towers.
“This is our dish that we use to receive our internet broadband signal… It does provide some problems, because if the neighboring brush gets too tall, then it will block our signal,” Westmoreland said.
Connected Nation Texas is now in Caldwell County testing broadband speeds, and creating more accurate maps to reflect what neighbors can access.
“Our goal and mission is to find and identify those rural areas of Texas that have gaps, that really need broadband, so we can focus our attention, the Federal Government’s attention and the state’s attention on getting services to those locations,” Director of Engineering and Technical Services for Connected Nation Charles Spann said.
Caldwell County Judge Hoppy Haden said connectivity issues led Lockhart ISD to invest nearly half a million dollars for their own network to help students with virtual school. And the pandemic exposed other needs for those working from home.
“You’re uploading and downloading very large files, so we need those upload and download speeds and we just don’t have them,” Haden said.
House Bill 5, pending at the Capitol, would incentivize providers to increase available infrastructure to help with the issue. This is something Westmoreland hopes makes life a little easier.
Connected Nation Texas will be helping Caldwell County identify assets it already has and help rural broadband access.
There’s a survey for the county, to get more funding from the federal government. The county and other community leaders are urging residents to participate and show the true need.
“The Rural Digital Opportunity Fund (RDOF) did not include Caldwell County, because according to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC), Caldwell County has 100% coverage at 25/3 Mbps,” Public Information Officer for Lockhart ISD Christina Courson said. “These speeds are not enough with all of the devices needed at home, especially in the pandemic. We also know there isn’t infrastructure to support high-speed internet for residents.”