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Texas Congressman Holds Panel on Advancing Broadband

Federal and state representatives were invited to a panel by Rep. Henry Cuellar regarding the nationwide expansion of broadband connectivity and accessibility, emphasizing new guidelines for what high-speed means.

Closeup of a pile of yellow broadband cables with blue caps.
(TNS) — Federal and state representatives were invited to a panel by Rep. Henry Cuellar regarding multiple programs and goals to expand broadband connectivity and accessibility throughout the nation, emphasizing the new established guidelines for what high-speed internet is.

Cuellar said that the goal of a Tuesday webinar was to discuss funding opportunities for counties, non-profits and public and private sectors for the expansion of broadband. He said that high speed internet is critical for everyone to ensure they can do their job and access school and health care while staying connected.

In 2021, the Texas Broadband Development Office was created to create a state broadband plan, secure federal and state funding, develop a competitive financial incentive program, and make recommendations to state legislature.

"The reliable access has become more critical, especially when we went through the COVID-19 pandemic. It showed us we had a weakness and we needed to do more to get our communities connected," said Cuellar, adding that the programs have been bolstered through the passing of the Bipartisan Infrastructure Bill.

Meagan Froh of the Broadband Development Office said that high speed internet has moved past the 2015 Federal Communications Commission designation of 25 Mbps download and 3 Mbps upload speeds as "high-speed." Moving forward, broadband speed targets are 100Mbps download and 20 Mbps upload or 100/100 Mbps, with the symmetrical speeds taking priority.

Froh added that in Texas, 7.7 million residents do not have broadband, a factor that plays into the digital divide. She said that this could be due to a number of different factors such as infrastructure availability, affordability of high-speed internet subscriptions, access to devices and digital literacy.

Amid the ongoing pandemic, which caused widespread shutdowns of in-school learning and face-to-face medical appointments, high speed internet was a boon to continue services throughout the world. However, those without high-speed internet were at a disadvantage. Froh's presentation indicates that broadband would impact multiple facets of the nation. These include:

— Enhanced economic development.

— Enhanced health care.

— Increased adoption and utilization.

— Disaster resilience and Emergency Management.

— Education.

— Improved Infrastructure and Technology.

Programs such as the Broadband Equity, Access and Deployment and the Middle Mile Grant programs are under the direction of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration. NTIA representative, Jennifer Harris, said that the NTIA is currently working to hire federal officers for each state in order to move forward with the programs and have them provide tailored support for their respective state. These officers are expecting to understand their states and have contacts within them to be a liaison between the NTIA, the broadband office and local officials.

According to Harris, the BEAD program received an astounding $42.45 billion in funding in order to get all U.S. residents online. Eligible uses for the funds include the planning for deployment of internet, deploying or upgrading internet, installing internet in multi-tenant buildings, implementing adoption and digital equity programs, and workforce and job training.

This includes all 50 states, the districts of Columbia and Puerto Rico, U.S. Virgin Islands, Guam, American Samoa and the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. The undertaking is slated to move past 2026.

The BEAD presentation states that a minimum of $100 million will be allocated to each state and $25 million for U.S. territories. However, additional allocations will be considered throughout each state. Harris said that $100 million would not be enough for Texas as an example. With billions on the line, states are tasked with providing a plan to start building the infrastructure where it is needed.

A 270-day deadline will be given to create a five-year plan that involves communities in need throughout each state.

During the process, it will also be integral to perform different types of outreach in multiple mechanisms as internet surveys are not accessible to those without internet. Harris said that the plan will be to involve as many residents as possible in rural, urban and tribal communities to find the broadband needs of each community.

Additionally, a priority will be placed for communities that are not connected or underserved in the broadband capacity, such as colonias in Webb County. These communities are the first and second priorities and include multi-tenant buildings. These communities are followed by community anchor institutions such as schools, libraries and hospitals.

© 2022 the Laredo Morning Times (Laredo, Texas). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.