Press Release: Coalition Launches Statewide Effort to Close Digital Divide

IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
THURSDAY, DECEMBER 17, 2020

 

COALITION LAUNCHES STATEWIDE EFFORT TO CLOSE DIGITAL DIVIDE
 New coalition – Digital Texas – will work to expand digital connectivity in Texas

AUSTIN, TEXAS – A broad coalition of Texas organizations is launching a new effort to increase digital connectivity across the state. The coalition includes Texas 2036, the Greater Houston Partnership, Texas Rural Funders, the Texas Association of Community Schools, United Ways of Texas, Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas, Inc., Texas e-Health Alliance, Texas Association of Community Colleges, Texas PTA, Community Foundations of Texas and the Texas Midwest Community Network.

As devastating as the coronavirus pandemic has been, the impact has been mitigated somewhat by the widespread adoption of broadband technology that allowed many to continue to work, learn and receive medical care despite closures and restrictions on in-person gatherings.

But for those without access to broadband – including millions of Texans – or the necessary digital skills, the pandemic has exposed growing inequity. Best estimates indicate that nearly 1 million Texans currently lack adequate infrastructure to support broadband service, largely in rural areas and low-income urban neighborhoods.

Even in areas where broadband service is more readily available, adoption rates remain low, with over 3 million households not subscribing to broadband today. Texas ranks 35th among states for the percentage of households subscribing to broadband internet; and among Texas’ peer states, like New York and California, with whom we compete for jobs and corporate relocations, Texas ranks dead last.

To close the gap and improve access to broadband internet statewide, Digital Texas is engaging legislators, private industry, nonprofits and state agencies to develop state policies that provides equitable access to reliable and affordable broadband internet.

The following comments from members of the Digital Texas Steering Committee explain why Texas needs to take action to ensure digital connectivity:

  • “Broadband internet is the Farm to Market road of the 21st-century,” said Texas 2036 CEO Margaret Spellings. “It is critical infrastructure that is essential to providing access to education, health care, and economic opportunity. By engaging state officials and industry leaders, Digital Texas seeks to secure an equitable and prosperous future for all Texans.”
  • “Rural communities that want to connect to broadband do not always have the infrastructure to do so, leaving them excluded from the digital world and its many opportunities,” explains Texas Rural Funders’ Ellen Ray.  “Leaders across the state are working to organize their communities around broadband access, and have demonstrated time and time again the dogged determination we Texans pride ourselves on. With a state broadband plan and dedicated office, Texas can amplify the good work already being done at the local level and take great strides toward getting all Texans connected.”
  • “Over the next 15 years, nearly 10 million additional people are expected to call Texas home,” said Greater Houston Partnership CEO Bob Harvey. “This growth will provide a wealth of opportunity, and broadband access will play a critical role in maximizing our potential.”
  • “Whether a student lives in an apartment in central Dallas or on a farm in the panhandle, they should have access to the tools they need to be successful,” said Suzi Kennon of the Texas PTA.
  • The impacts of this inequity are real and immediate. “Children with a poor internet connection can spend as much time watching the spinning circle waiting for it to connect as they spend learning,” said Barry Haenisch, Executive Director of the Texas Association of Community Schools. “Lack of high-speed internet in many rural areas of Texas is potentially crippling for rural children.”
  • “Public education is really the cornerstone of our economy,” said Kate Rogers, formerly with the Charles Butt Foundation and leading the Digital Inclusion Plan for San Antonio. “Our public school teachers and administrators must have the tools necessary to educate our kids, and in today’s world that simply can’t be done without broadband internet.”
  • College students also require access to reliable broadband internet. “The vast majority of courses are already completely online,” notes Dr. William Serrata with the Texas Association of Community Colleges. “Even after this pandemic, we’re going to continue online tools more and more integrated into instruction. If people can’t access the instruction, they’re going to fall behind, and ultimately become less likely to earn a post-secondary credential.”
  • And the digital divide affects more than just students. “Digital inclusion is economic inclusion,” said Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas Inc.’s Vice President of Community Investment, Jordana Barton. “This is an issue that intersects with every area of community development and the social determinants of health as the digital divide is a structural marketplace issue that, if overcome, will create opportunities for upward mobility for our most vulnerable communities and a vibrant and inclusive Texas economy.”
  • The link between digital inclusion and healthcare has become especially clear during the current pandemic. “Telemedicine and e-health are integral parts of our healthcare system,” said Nora Belcher, Executive Director of the Texas e-Health Alliance. “Broadband internet is key to people to actively participate in managing their healthcare in the 21st-century.”
  • “Small towns have become more appealing to our urban neighbors", said Kathy Keane, Executive Director at Texas Midwest Community Network. “And there’s a lot of energy in our small towns. Without high speed broadband access, though, we’re being held back from achieving at our full potential.”
  • “The digital divide,” said Community Foundations of Texas’ Managing Director George Tang, “falls squarely at the intersection of education, health, and economic opportunity. You cannot address any one of these areas without addressing digital inclusion.”
  • “It doesn't help underserved communities to have access to broadband if they can't afford to subscribe and don't have the skills to use the technology,” adds Adrianna Cuellar Rojas, President and CEO of United Ways of Texas. “Failing to address digital inclusion exacerbates existing economic and education inequalities that will be felt for future generations.”

To learn more about Digital Texas, visit our website at www.digitaltexas.org.

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About Digital Texas

Digital Texas is a statewide coalition of advocates, employers, and non-profit organizations working to improve digital connectivity access for all Texans. To accomplish this, Digital Texas seeks to engage with private industry, nonprofit leaders, the public, and legislators. For more information, visit www.digitaltexas.org.

About Texas 2036

Texas 2036 is a nonprofit organization building long-term, data-driven strategies to secure Texas' prosperity through our state’s bicentennial and beyond. We offer non-partisan ideas and modern solutions that are grounded in research and data on issues that matter most to all Texans. For more information, visit www.texas2036.org.

About Greater Houston Partnership

The Greater Houston Partnership works to make Houston one of the best places to live, work and build a business. As the economic development organization for the Houston region, the Partnership champions growth across 12 counties by bringing together business and civic-minded leaders who are dedicated to the area’s long-term success. Representing 1,000 member organizations and approximately one-fifth of the region’s workforce, the Partnership is the place business leaders come together to make an impact. Learn more at www.Houston.org.

About Texas Rural Funders

The future of Texas depends on strong, successful rural communities. TRF's diverse network of funders brings attention and resources to rural Texas, leverages local assets for success, and addresses systemic challenges for impact no single organization could achieve alone. Texas Rural Funders is dedicated to working with rural communities to amplify opportunities and rural voices. We strive to honor, strengthen, and preserve rural communities because when they succeed, Texas as a whole succeeds. For more information, visit www.texasruralfunders.org.

About Texas Association of Community Schools

Texas Association of Community Schools (TACS) represents school districts with no more than one high school or 12,000 students in average daily attendance. Our membership comprises more than 600 small, mid-sized and rural school districts in Texas. TACS works for the improvement of instruction by providing professional development programs for educators and supporting legislation which will enhance the opportunities and abilities of community schools to provide quality education programs. To learn more, visit https://www.tacsnet.org.

About United Ways of Texas

United Ways of Texas is the statewide membership association representing nearly 70 local, independent United Ways across the state. United Ways of Texas drives systemic change through policy advocacy on behalf of and in collaboration with our network of local United Ways. Our network represents Texans coming together the United Way: local communities partnering to meet their local challenges. For more information, visit https://www.uwtexas.org.

About Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas, Inc.

Methodist Healthcare Ministries of South Texas, Inc. is a private, faith-based not-for-profit organization dedicated to creating access to health care for the uninsured through direct services, community partnerships and strategic grant-making in 74 counties across South Texas. Guided by its mission of "Serving Humanity to Honor God," Methodist Healthcare Ministries’ vision is to be the leader for improving wellness of the least served. The mission also includes Methodist Healthcare Ministries' one-half ownership of the Methodist Healthcare System, the largest healthcare system in South Texas, which creates a unique avenue to ensure that it continues to be a benefit to the community by providing quality care to all and charitable care when needed. For more information, visit https://www.mhm.org.

About Texas e-Health Alliance

Founded in 2009, the Texas e-Health Alliance is the only statewide nonprofit in Texas that is exclusively focused on e-health issues. TeHA advocates on behalf of e-health to the Texas legislature and state agencies, and facilitates communications efforts with the media and the general public. TeHA is a connecting point for health information technology stakeholders to come together and share ideas, gain insights, develop partnerships, and collaborate on solutions. To learn more, visit https://txeha.org.

About Texas Association of Community Colleges

Texas Association of Community Colleges works with the Texas Legislature to promote policies that improve student education across our 50 public community college member districts. Although much of that work takes place during the Texas Legislative session every two years, building relationships with legislators is a continual process. Throughout the year, we educate decision-makers and influencers about needs of community colleges and opportunities to give Texas students the best chance for academic success. To learn more, visit https://tacc.org.

About Texas PTA

Texas PTA is the largest child advocacy grassroots association in Texas with over 515,000 members. From parents to grandparents and educators to community leaders, Texas PTA has a diverse volunteer base who all share a special interest in our students and schools. The association’s mission is to make every child’s potential a reality by engaging and empowering families and communities to advocate for all children. To learn more, visit https://www.txpta.org/.

About Community Foundations of Texas

With the goal of building thriving communities for all, Communities Foundation of Texas (CFT) works locally and across the state through a variety of charitable funds and strategic initiatives. The public foundation professionally manages 1,000 charitable funds for individuals, families, companies and nonprofits in addition to powering several key initiatives such as Educate Texas at CFT, W. W. Caruth, Jr. Fund at CFT and CFT’s North Texas Giving Day. CFT has awarded more than $1.9 billion in grants since its founding in 1953. To learn more, visit https://www.cftexas.org.

About Texas Midwest Community Network

Texas Midwest Community Network strives to provide the resources and awareness for its members to achieve economic and community growth. The regional organization provides a means by which communities can work together to accomplish what one community cannot do alone. For more information about Texas Midwest Community Network visit https://tmcn.org.

Media Contacts

Merrill Davis, Director of Communications, Texas 2036 & Digital Texas
Ph: 713-213-7297
Email: Merrill.Davis@Texas2036.org

Steve Scheibal, New West Communications
Ph: 512-762-8808
Email: Steve@NewWestComms.com

Jason Embry, New West Communications
Ph: 512-560-3876
Email: Jason@NewWestComms.com