FCC Approves $77M in Rural Internet Funds for Texas Counties

The funding approval Monday is projected to provide Internet access for thousands of businesses and residences across 89 Texas counties, according to a Federal Communication Commission statement.

by Dwight Silverman, Houston Chronicle / July 16, 2019

(TNS) — The Federal Communications Commission on Monday approved nearly $77 million in funding for improving rural Internet access in 89 Texas counties. The money will go to connecting businesses and residences that are unserved by existing Internet access.

The vast majority of the money for Texas, won in an auction to conduct the buildout, will go to one company, and in some counties will create as few as three new connections.

The funding is part of the commission’s Connect America initiative, which aims to provide resources for broadband Internet access to rural areas that lack high-speed connections. Because it can be costly to build infrastructure to low-density rural areas, many rural residents and businesses lack the service enjoyed in more urban settings.

Monday’s funding approval is projected to provide Internet access for 33,901 businesses and residences in Texas, according to an FCC statement. Commission data from 2017 indicate 68.9 percent of Texas’ rural population has access to broadband-speed service, compared to 97.4 percent of urban areas of the state.

Of the 89 counties, 86 will be served by Weatherford-based AMG Technology Investment Group, which does business as Nextlink Internet and operates in north and central Texas. Three counties will be served by Texhoma Fiber, a wholesale Internet provider based in Medicine Park, Okla.

In some counties, the companies are required to provide infrastructure with a minimum download speed of 25 megabits per second, with an upload speed of 3 Mbps. In others, the requirement is 100 Mbps download and 20 Mbps upload. Nationally, the average broadband download speed is just over 96 Mbps, according to Ookla, which monitors Internet performance.

The Internet service can be either fixed wireless, which uses technology similar to mobile access, or with fiber or traditional wiring. Nexlink, for example, is known for providing fixed wireless service.

Eight Houston-area counties will be receiving funding under the plan: Austin, Brazos, Colorado, Fort Bend, Matagorda, Waller, Washington and Wharton. All but Brazos will get the 100/20 Mbps speeds.

The number of businesses and residents to be connected varies wildly among the counties. For example, the largest number of businesses and residences to be served is in Delta County, with 7,404 locations at a cost of $6.2 million. The fewest are in Shackleford County, with three locations at a cost of $13,150.

The auction, the second for the Connect America Fund, was conducted in July-August 2018, had 220 qualified bidders and 103 winners. Nationally, $1.49 billion in funding was set through the auction, and the FCC will approve more of these bids later this year.

The winners have three years to connect 40 percent of the locations, and must increase the buildout 20 percent in each subsequent years. The buildout must be complete after six years. The money is allocated over a 10-year span.

©2019 the Houston Chronicle. Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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