IE 11 Not Supported

For optimal browsing, we recommend Chrome, Firefox or Safari browsers.

Texas Transportation Group Works to Address Broadband

Accessing the Internet by helping to provide support for high-speed broadband infrastructure and technology has been the focus of the Midland-Odessa Transportation Alliance for the last several years.

(TNS) — Interstates and county roads are not the only transportation issues MOTRAN has been addressing.

Accessing the information superhighway, as the internet was known in its early days, through the most current broadband technology has been the focus of the Midland-Odessa Transportation Alliance for the last several years.

"One of the areas that's also important to transportation is moving data and information," said James Beauchamp, MOTRAN president, as he provided an update on broadband in MidlandOdessa and the West Texas region.

Their location along the interstate means Midland and Odessa are better situated than other areas, he said, but there is room for improvement.

He discussed the results of a recent survey the organization conducted about broadband. Before the COVID-19 pandemic, he said 49.7 percent of Ector County residents worked from home at some level, 34 percent reported from home daily and 62 percent once a week or more. Most Ector County residents also like to shop online, even from local businesses, he said -- 68 percent weekly and 80 percent monthly.

Continuing to focus on Ector County, Beauchamp said a large majority of homes have access to broadband, while 33 percent -- or 17,319 -- don't have access by choice. Of those, he said 34 percent use their mobile devices, 15 percent said their mobile devices are their primary internet access and 16 percent said their mobile devices are their only internet connection.

Beauchamp said the survey found that 35 percent of respondents said broadband was too expensive and 58 percent said it was not available to them.

"What we found was really important was the cost," Beauchamp said. "Over 65 percent pay $45 to $50 more for their current plans than other plans currently available to them, available in most cases without contracts and at higher levels of service."

He urged broadband users -- or those who want broadband service -- to contact their providers, update their service plans or ask if service is available to them. Doing so could save consumers significant amounts of money, he said.

Beauchamp said, "A lot of businesses here are doing amazing things."

He then highlighted two of them.

One is NextLink Internet, which last year won a $2.7 million funding grant from the Federal Communication Commission's Connect America Fund auction to provide service to rural and underserved communities.

Kyle Towns with NextLink, participating in MOTRAN's virtual update, said the company is excited for the opportunity to be in West Texas. The company has been working in the San Angelo area and will be making its way to this region early next year and will be setting up a fully staffed office.

Towns said its infrastructure plans include building new towers or connecting wireless service to assets in the town, from existing towers to water towers. Utilizing existing assets lets the company update technology. He cited work in Lampasas where the company followed the imprint of old cable and DSL lines.

"About a year ago, we started investing, kicked the project off, built out the entire city, fiber to home. That is one aspect of where we can leverage the infrastructure we buy," he said. "We talk about a high level of service. It may be a hospital, it may be a financial institution, a manufacturing service that needs a high level of service. We can incorporate that as well."

He said the company also wants to work with housing developers trying to bring broadband infrastructure to the homes they're building.

Broadband can also help with economic diversification, as illustrated by Big Bend Telecom, which last fall announced plans for its BBT Midland 1 Data Center at 2913 Wright Drive at Midland International Air and Space Port.

Neville Haynes with BBT said the company has made significant progress since the center was announced last year. Work is underway on the existing 1,700-square-foot building that will house half-racks, racks, cages, copper and fiber cable, backup power generators and security. There is also room to expand with a larger second facility and even more power generation, he said.

In addition to talking with area providers like Grande, Sparklight and Suddenlink, he said BBT is also working with MOTRAN and the Permian Strategic Partnership on efforts to connect rural areas and oil and gas operations.

"The analogy for folks in the Permian Basin is companies (that) had trouble getting their oil out of the Permian Basin fast enough; they built pipelines. Too, we're having problems getting data out of the Permian Basin. Our facility will improve high-speed transmission out of the region."

Cameron Brown with BBT said, "People ask why do you have this notion of building a data center in the Permian Basin. It is an underserved market. What are the benefits of a true-purpose built center in the Permian Basin? We're building this as the head of the spear. It gives us the ability to have multiple providers in one space as an aggregate to ensure we have a robust network, an aggregate for our customers to share their resources."

He said it will let BBT's customers meet compliance requirements and will result in a better network that runs faster and more smoothly for those working from home, shopping online, attending school online, practicing telemedicine, or just watching Netflix, Hulu or Amazon television shows.

"We are so excited about what this brings to the area," said Beauchamp. "This is a big step forward; we're getting onboard with technology."

(c)2020 the Midland Reporter-Telegram (Midland, Texas). Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.