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Gov. Abbott Prioritizes Wider Broadband Access. Rural Texas Cities Are Optimistic.

Courtesy: Monahans Chamber of Commerce, Photo by Pablo Valles
Courtesy: Monahans Chamber of Commerce, Photo by Pablo Valles

Monahans, Texas, is a city in the Permian Basin — home to attractions like the Monahans Sandhills State Park, dubbed an “ocean of sand.”

For residents in the tight-knit community, a lack of reliable broadband internet access hinders everyday life.

When people head out to lunch, paying with a credit card often isn't an option since transactions can’t be processed. That means employees are sometimes serving food without getting paid for their services,according to Teresa Burnett, executive director of the Monahans Chamber of Commerce.

Poor internet connectivity has been a long-standing issue for the community, and it’s now back in the spotlight after Gov. Abbott outlined broadband access as a priority in his State of the State Address on Feb. 1.

For years, Burnett has been trying to expand broadband access in Monahans by partnering with organizations like Connected Nation, a public-private initiative working to expand broadband across the state.

The city has missed out on numerous business opportunities with oil and gas companies, an industry that fuels employment for local citizens. Historically, Monahans’ economic vitality has been driven by the industry.

Burnett mentioned that when companies look to relocate, they look at factors like access to medical institutions and public safety infrastructure. Most importantly though, companies rely on high-speed internet access.

Broadband usually refers to an internet connection that is accessed via high-speed transmission technology, like satellites or fiber-optic cables.

“Right now, because technology is getting so advanced, that you’ve got to have a good, fast fiber broadband network in order to run some of your equipment," Burnett said. "And, we lost a few of those companies in our community because we cannot supply them with adequate fiber broadband to run their offices off of".

Two hours southwest of Monahans, Jeff Davis County faces similar problems.

Todd Jagger is the Precinct 2 county commissioner for Jeff Davis County, and has been working to expand broadband access in the region. He works with a local committee to advocate for more resources and support from state lawmakers.

“The committee works to determine what the needs are, and then set some goals working with primarily private providers to see if we can get our people covered out here,” Jagger said.

The absence of reliable internet is a disadvantage for residents because they can’t access needs like telemedicine or virtual learning resources — issues made more apparent during the pandemic.

With Governor Greg Abbott declaring the expansion of broadband access across Texas as one of five emergency items for the 2021 session, both Burnett and Jagger are optimistic.

“I’m certainly going to be advocating with my representatives, and certainly other representatives in the legislature to make sure that we are not forgotten,” Jagger said, noting that he is looking forward to conversations around expansion.

Got a tip? Email Haya Panjwani at hpanjwani@KERA.org. You can follow Haya on Twitter @hayapanjw.

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Copyright 2021 KERA. To see more, visit KERA.

Haya Panjwani