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Glenn Hegar
Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts
Glenn Hegar
Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts
Glenn Hegar
Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts

Broadband refers to always-on, high-speed internet access and is increasingly seen as a requirement for modern life. The Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC’s) benchmark for high-speed internet is at least 25 megabits per second (Mbps) for downloads and 3 Mbps for uploads.

Regardless of internet service provider, broadband speeds differ depending on peak use times (for example, right after work), number of connected devices (computers, smartphones and tablets) and the kinds of material being accessed (email vs. video, for instance).

The Texas Comptroller’s flagship publication, Fiscal Notes, has reported on Texas’ Digital Divide and Broadband Expansion in Texas.

Benefits of Broadband

In its 2010 National Broadband Plan, the Federal Communications Commission stated that “like electricity a century ago, broadband is a foundation for economic growth, job creation, global competitiveness and a better way of life.”

Several facets of Texas’ economy are becoming increasingly dependent on internet access.

Telemedicine

The use of online disease management services, electronic health records, home monitoring and other services can reach Texans who don’t have easy face-to-face access to healthcare. These services have been invaluable during the pandemic.

Agriculture

Texas farmers depend as much on technology as any stockbroker or banker. Autonomous machinery, data-driven irrigation sensors and web-enabled sales platforms are just a few of the 21st century tools behind the scenes of modern “precision” agriculture, which applies high-tech processes to improve the efficiency and effectiveness of planting, nutrient and pest management and harvesting.

Education

Today’s students need to be technologically equipped for success in tomorrow’s workforce. Broadband can help them maintain an advantage in finding and applying for jobs and gaining new career skills. Broadband technology also is key to the use of online or “distance” learning, used by elementary- to university-aged students before, during and after the pandemic.

Business and Tourism

Digital technologies anchored by high-speed internet can help businesses generate sales, expand their reach in the global marketplace and make purchases from larger vendor networks. A joint U.S. Chamber of Commerce and Amazon survey estimated that increased access to digital tools over three years could generate nearly $6.7 billion in increased annual sales for rural Texas businesses, while creating more than 23,000 additional Texas jobs.

Public Safety

With advancements in technology, first responders have come to rely on commercial wireless services to share video and other important data for the purpose of keeping people safe and saving lives. These services rely on dependable, available broadband to accomplish mission-critical communications that make the success of their efforts possible.

Accessing Broadband

Broadband can be obtained through a variety of services.

  • Fiber optic technology, through a series of steps, transmits data through hair-sized glass fibers at speeds exceeding other broadband technologies. While fast, fiber has limitations in its availability from the high cost of creating its network infrastructure.
  • Cable modem service enables cable operators to provide broadband using the same coaxial cables that deliver pictures and sound to a user’s television.
  • Digital subscriber line (DSL) is a wireline transmission technology that transmits data over traditional copper telephone lines already installed to homes and businesses.
  • Wireless broadband can be mobile or fixed. It connects a home or business to the internet using a radio link between the customer’s location and the service provider’s facility. Topography and manmade structures can prevent availability to some wireless networks.
  • Satellite broadband is another form of wireless broadband and is useful for serving remote or sparsely populated areas.
  • Broadband over powerline (BPL) is an emerging technology that uses existing low- and medium-voltage electric power distribution networks to deliver broadband to homes via existing electrical connections and outlets. BPL is available in very limited areas.

Source: FCC

The Digital Divide

In 2016, well before the pandemic, the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas found that the gap between those with broadband access and those without – often called the digital divide – “leads to further economic, social and political disparities for low-income and underserved populations.”

Even in urban areas with accessible broadband, many households still don’t subscribe to the service. Brownsville, Harlingen and Beaumont ranked in the top 20 of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance’s 2019 list of worst-connected cities. Texas’ vast rural areas are especially underserved. As of 2016, only 69 percent of rural Texans could access high-speed internet. Many of the barriers to expansion in Texas concern the state’s size, varying population densities and even its terrain.

This digital divide has serious implications:

  • Telemedicine, vital in areas with physically distant or sparse medical resources, requires reliable broadband service to be effective and serve rural Texans – as well as urban Texans during a pandemic.
  • A 2019 U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) report on farm technology, A Case for Rural Broadband, noted that adequate broadband infrastructure and other digital technologies in agriculture could add from $47 billion to $65 billion annually to the U.S. economy.
  • Texas has more schools in rural areas than any other state. The Classroom Connectivity Initiative says nearly 275,000 Texas students need more bandwidth for digital learning.

Digital Literacy

According to the Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC), digital literacy is the ability to use the latest information and communication technologies to find, evaluate, create and communicate information. Digital literacy extends beyond knowing about the digital tools available to actually using them to communicate and collaborate.

TSLAC’s Digital Literacy Training Toolkit is a free, online training course with lesson plans, workbooks, activity worksheets, and resources covering computer basics, email, Microsoft applications, resume writing and more. This valuable tool is available to all Texans who want to develop and improve their computer skills.


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HB855 Browser Statement

In 2015, the Texas Legislature passed House Bill 855, which requires state agencies to publish a list of the three most commonly used Web browsers on their websites. The Texas Comptroller’s most commonly used Web browsers are Google Chrome, Microsoft Internet Explorer and Apple Safari.

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