AMARILLO, Texas (KFDA) - The pandemic accelerated how much we all depend on internet access to carry out daily activities.
The latest data shows more than 2 million Texas households do not have high speed internet, disproportionately affecting those in rural areas.
“What has been revealed by COVID is the fact that many of our students in the city do not have equal access to broadband,” said Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson.
However, this is not something that can be fixed overnight.
He says when remote learning first picked up, he received thousands of calls from school districts across Texas needing internet. So, he began the initiative called Connect2Educate which focuses on helping schools gain access.
Here in Amarillo, AISD is currently loaning over 1,800 hotspot devices to families who do not have internet access.
McGrath says the distribution of devices and Wi-Fi hotspot is good, but is not going to get to the root of the problem.
“While Amarillo is a much bigger area, once you get outside of there and go to Dumas or Texline, your infrastructure goes way down on availability. So, when they are down in availability your cost goes higher to build the infrastructure and maintain it,” said McGrath.
Aside from infrastructure, there are several other challenges like a lack of funding and a lack of competition that could hike prices.
This is also why many rural ISD’s are unable to participate in state programs already trying to address broadband. As a result, we are seeing more initiatives at every level to try and change it.
“That is something the city will look at and we are excited about partnering with our school districts to try and accomplish closing that gap, so that everyone in our city does have that basic access to broadband.” said Nelson
McGrath says eventually it will all boil down to funding, which is why they are actively speaking with Texas state representatives and senators about the best way to do this.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott has also said expanding broadband access is one of his emergency items for this legislative session.
McGrath notes it will take time, but because this is a bipartisan issue, he thinks it has a better chance of being addressed sooner rather than later.