Rural Texans still need better broadband access

By Jennifer Dorsett

It’s no secret that when it comes to broadband access, rural residents are far behind their urban counterparts. According to the American Farm Bureau Federation, nearly 40 percent of rural Americans lack access to high-speed internet connections.

The Texas Legislature and Gov. Greg Abbott have been working to find solutions and improve access since a bill was passed last May creating the governor’s Broadband Development Council.

Helping in those efforts is South Texas cattle rancher and Texas Farm Bureau (TFB) member Lindsey Lee. She was appointed by Abbott in January as the council’s agricultural organization advocate.

“Agriculture is definitely my passion,” Lee, who lives on her family’s ranch in rural Jackson County, said. “I’m very honored and excited to support the governor on this initiative.”

COVID-19 upended plans to meet earlier in the year, so the council only recently had a first virtual meeting, where Lee was assigned to a subcommittee identifying the barriers to commercial and residential broadband in underserved areas.

It’s a topic Lee is eager to share more about with other council members who may not fully understand rural circumstances.

“In addition to working on the family ranch, I’m a farm and ranch realtor, and there are several areas where I have listings and sell properties that there’s minimal internet service,” she said. “Even where I live, my service is not all that great, so I understand the issue very, very well.”

While there is an overall need for better broadband access across the state, it’s especially evident in rural areas, Lee said. Dependable high-speed access can deliver telemedicine in areas that lack healthcare professionals, career opportunities and enhanced educational resources.

And while Lee has long been aware of the faults and frustrations of rural internet, the coronavirus pandemic has underscored the need for better access in her own life.

The real estate office where Lee works was closed at the beginning of the pandemic, but she continued to commute to town to work because her home internet speed proved incapable of handling the increased workload.

“For the first few weeks, we completely shut down our office,” she said. “Unless it was a contract signing, we didn’t allow people in the building at all. We were all trying to work from home, but I spent more time in the office than my coworkers because my internet access is so terrible.”

Access to rural broadband is critical for farmers, ranchers and rural communities to be more efficient, economical and responsive to market needs.

“I’m very much looking forward to tackling these issues and seeing what the council can do to increase broadband access for rural Texans,” Lee said.

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