Like many other parts of the state, the Rio Grande Valley has been hit hard by the pandemic.
While a range of economic indicators highlight that the Valley is thankfully bouncing back, the pandemic exposed a number of vulnerabilities that, if left unaddressed, could undermine the recovery and long-term growth.
Much has been made about broadband’s role in helping families navigate the pandemic. High-speed internet enables a range of remote activities – from educating our students to working from home and staying in touch with loved ones to supporting tele-health.
The pandemic increased the demand for adequate broadband and need for digital platforms as the sole solution to continue economic growth and educational opportunities. The broadband discussed here refers to broadband infrastructure via fiber or Coax as part of a network delivered to households, apartments, and commercial buildings.
We applaud the efforts of our school districts, municipalities, and non-profit organizations from across the RGV that collaborated to provide short-term solutions to continue home schooling – such as laptops, mobile hot-spot devices, and access to free Wi-Fi. These efforts call for regional collaboration to expand access and adoption in our communities with a long-term plan.
While cities across the RGV have world-class broadband readily available, some people do not subscribe. The challenges are affordability, lack of digital-literacy or perception that broadband is not a necessity.
The lack of broadband infrastructure was also exposed during the pandemic, shedding light that there are gaps in our communities.
Fortunately, these challenges are being discussed and addressed by public and private stakeholders, however a lot more can be done.
At the National level, Congress and the federal Communications Commission are providing funding via the Cares Act to support expansion and adoption and at the state level, Governor Abbott created the Governor’s Broadband Development Council (GBDC) in 2019 to study and identify ways to provide internet access to underserved areas of Texas. Our state legislators are currently filing bills to create a state broadband plan that will prioritize access and adoption.
At the regional level, a lot more can be done by collaborating with the private industry (Internet Service Providers – ISPs) that for decades have invested millions of dollars in their infrastructure and workforce.
The Rio Grande Valley Partnership looks forward to supporting the efforts led by municipalities such as the City of Brownsville that have made adoption and access to broadband a priority for economic and educational growth. It also encourages these same municipalities to work and utilize local ISPs that have existing infrastructure in place and can quickly serve the community.
As the Rio Grande Valley considers how to bolster broadband connectivity, it would be wise to focus on increasing demand for the service by delivering targeted training in under-adopting communities. Ensuring that we create awareness of the discounted broadband service by entities like AT&T and Spectrum that offer discounted access to qualifying low-income households. While at the same time, identify the lack of broadband in our local communities.
We also look forward to engaging with organizations that encourage private and public sector innovations, partnerships, and deployment of advanced broadband solutions, including fiber technologies.
The next steps at the RGV Partnership are to call for candid and transparent conversations with private and public stakeholders on access and adoption to broadband across the RGV.