August 4, 2009 By Chad Vander Veen
The Texas Department of Agriculture announced Tuesday it will map the state's broadband inventory through an initiative called Connect Texas.
The department will partner with Redlands, Calif.-based ESRI, a leading provider of GIS software; and Washington, D.C.-based nonprofit Connected Nation, an organization that aims to assist states expand their broadband coverage.
In July, the U.S. Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) announced the State Broadband Data and Development Grant Program, which seeks to spur states to collect broadband availability data via statewide broadband mapping.
The program will provide $240 million to states for mapping purposes under the umbrella of both the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (a.k.a. the stimulus package) and the 2008 Broadband Data Improvement Act.
"Texas is the first of many applying for the grant money," Randy Frantz, ESRI's telecommunications industry manager, told Government Technology. "The funding is such they've got to put a broadband mapping proposal in to the NTIA by August 14."
Connected Nation has worked with seven other states to expand broadband access. By coupling with ESRI's ArcGIS platform, the Texas Department of Agriculture will be able to deliver interactive maps that precisely detail the state's broadband coverage -- or lack thereof.
Frantz said Connect Texas will enable the state "to be able understand the issues not just on a local basis, but at the middle mile -- the first mile, the last mile, and the middle mile - and a state of that size is going to be looking at how to connect all the different components there."
With $4 billion in broadband stimulus money up for grabs, mapping access should help improve a state's case for receiving a portion of the funds.
"We are excited about this new partnership," Texas agriculture commissioner Todd Staples said in a news release. "Connected Nation will help Texas close the digital divide between urban and rural communities in our state. By creating a broadband map, we will learn which areas are unserved and underserved. This critical knowledge will lead to developing projects that bring high-speed Internet to all Texans, which will enhance economic development, expand educational opportunities and improve health care."
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