By Claire Kowalick, Wichita Falls Times Record News
The Federal Communications Commission is rolling out a $1.5 billion project that will expand broadband to thousands of underserved areas of the United States.
Over the next 10 years, $76.7 million was authorized to fund the expansion to 33,901 rural homes and businesses in Texas.
The move is part of a third wave of the Connect America Fund Phase II auction.
United States Sen. John Cornyn, R-Texas, said access to broadband is not just about connecting to the internet.
“It’s an issue of safety, of education and of health for rural Texans,” he said. “I’m grateful to the Trump Administration for recognizing the critical need for broadband in rural areas and for supporting the connectivity of nearly 34,000 rural Texas households.”
Broadband providers received funding in July to provide these services in 89 counties in the state, including Wichita County and several area counties including Callahan, Coleman, Comanche, Eastland, Howard, Jones. Mitchell, Nolan, Runnells, Stephens, Taylor and Throckmorton in the Big Country area.
Wichita County Commissioner Mark Beauchamp was briefed about the program during a recent visit to Washington, D.C., for an intergovernmental meeting.
“This is going to be a game changer on a similar level to electricity 100 years ago. This will bring that technology to rural areas and they can do things that they can’t do now,” he said.
A farmer experiencing a diseased crop could Skype with an agriculture extension agent who could solve the problem without having to physically go to the farm.
Farmers could complete online training for various needs.
Wichita County is not as underserved as some neighboring areas, but Beauchamp said this will be vitally important to our county as well as area counties and partners.
“Every little bit helps and every line of fiber we can extend is beneficial,” he said.
In the July wave of FCC funding for Texas, two providers — AMG Technology Investment Group and Texhoma Fiber — are the providers for all projects in the 89 counties.
Texhoma Fiber — a Wichita Falls-based business — will be completing work for Wichita County as well as two south Texas counties – Jim Hogg and Webb counties.
The FCC authorized two waves of funding in May and June that enabled broadband service to nearly 100,000 houses and businesses.
The funding in July will help 23 states and brings the total of FCC funding released to $803 million – more than half of the $1.5 billion allocated.
“High-speed Internet provides access to opportunity in the 21st century, and the FCC’s top priority is closing the digital divide so that all Americans can fully participate in our connected society,” said FCC Chairman Ajit Pai. “Today’s (July 15) authorization of funding is the largest yet from the auction, nearly double the amount authorized in the first two rounds nationwide, and serving over twice as many rural homes and businesses. I am pleased that the Commission is moving quickly to authorize these funds to close the digital divide in rural Texas and other states.”