Broadband internet companies operating in Texas are expected to receive over $362 million to expand their networks to include more underserved, rural areas of the state, according to data released this week.
The money — which comes from the Federal Communications Commission’s taxpayer-funded Rural Digital Opportunity Fund — was allocated through an auction process to 22 different companies with plans to bolster internet service in Texas and close the so-called digital divide.
Charter Communications’ holding company received the most money at $186.8 million, followed by Resound Networks at $94 million. Charter owns Spectrum, which sells internet, mobile and TV services.
LTD Broadband was awarded $42.7 million and AMG Technology Investment Group received $24.5 million, according to a Dallas Morning News analysis of FCC data.
The funding will go toward companies’ efforts to expand internet access to 310,962 Texas homes and businesses, according to the FCC.
The agency listed 220 Texas counties that will benefit from the effort over the next decade. Jasper, Tyler, Liberty, Shelby, Cherokee, Cass and Harris counties will receive the most investment, with each county set to gain $11 million to $13 million in internet access expansion. At least $1 million in improvements has been awarded to telecom company operations in 85 Texas counties.
Nearly all of the Texas locations eligible for the auction will receive broadband internet with gigabit speeds, the agency said.
The winning bidders, announced Monday, will still need to submit proof to the FCC that they are capable of expanding access, as well as a plan for doing so. Those forms are due by the end of January. Nationally, the FCC awarded $9.2 billion in funding.
“This historic auction is great news for the residents of so many rural Texas communities, who will get access to high-quality broadband service in areas that for too long have been on the wrong side of the digital divide,” FCC Chairman Ajit Pai said in a statement.
“We structured this innovative and groundbreaking auction to prioritize bids for high-speed, low-latency services to deliver the best results for rural Americans, and the results show that this strategy worked.”
Pai described the auction as “the commission’s single largest step ever taken toward delivering digital opportunity to every American.”
The funding comes as the digital divide — a term used to refer to gaps in internet access for Americans — has become one of the top issues for Texans and incoming president Joe Biden as the coronavirus pandemic upended in-person work and education.
But the history of the divide is almost as long as the history of the internet itself.
In an analysis of broadband internet connections across Texas in 2016, the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas said the digital divide “leads to further economic, social and political disparities for low-income and underserved populations.”
About 31% of rural Texans could not access high-speed internet in 2016, defined by the FCC as at least 25 Mbps for downloads and 3 Mbps for uploads, according to a report from the Texas Comptroller’s office last year.
Companies like Dallas-based AT&T as well as local and state governments have developed plans this year to distribute WiFi hotspots and other technologies to bridge the divide.
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