By Todd Staples, Texas Agriculture Commissioner

Jobs and improved quality of life – that’s what greater access to high-speed wireless service means and there are a lot of successes underway toward that end.
Upgrades are in store for business, education, health care and home life.

Why should all Texans care about rural technology? Because rural Texas is where hundreds of billions dollars in Gross State Product (GSP) originate. About $100 billion, or around 9 percent of Texas GSP, comes from agriculture alone. More than 86 percent of Texas’ land mass is over rural Texas, and let’s face it; our need to communicate doesn’t stop because we’re traveling across our state’s huge geography. In this day and age, we want a reliable Internet connection no matter where we live, work or travel.

With a focus on broadband expansion being a priority these days, study after study is reiterating something critical – rural communities are often the last to gain access to the technology and tools that allow for job creation, enhanced health care and educational advancement. Many urban counterparts enjoy tremendous competitive advantages when they are the first to receive the technological infrastructure.

Fortunately, the tide is turning thanks to the work of private providers across the state. For expansion to be successful, it must be driven by the private market. For those who may ask if rural Texas can support a market-based approach, the answer is absolutely.

Through the Connected Texas project, your Texas Department of Agriculture is helping create partnerships between small communities and private providers. One monumental victory is being celebrated in Nacogdoches County where the entire East Texas town of Chireno now has access to high-speed Internet thanks to a 160-foot tower erected by East Texas DSL.

The tower was the end result of a partnership between the Texas Department of Agriculture, Connected Texas and community partners that ultimately generated media attention and support for Internet access. Today, the small town’s population of about 400 people now has access to all the advantages available to larger urban areas. A win for rural Texas is a win for all Texans.

Over the past few years, private investment has combined the needs of rural, suburban and urban areas to provide increasingly seamless broadband service. AT&T has invested to create new opportunities across the state. Their work has enabled the Court Appointed Special Advocates (CASA) staff in Midland to put webcams and wireless broadband technology to work to train more volunteers and child advocates across West Texas. Leveraging the potential to use broadband to expand access to training and education programs means greater economic and educational opportunity for more Texans.

The proposed merger between AT&T and T-Mobile USA also presents a new opportunity to extend the latest broadband technology to more areas of the state — an estimated 3 million locations in the Lone Star State. Partnerships like this that represent opportunity for rural Texas cannot be ignored. I look forward to the review of this proposed merger, which the Federal Communications Commission is currently conducting.

Similarly, Sprint paved new ground in improving broadband service by being the first company to roll out 4G technology and provide mobile broadband service at faster speeds to communities across the state, from major cities to rural communities. Sprint’s efforts put smaller Texas cities like White Deer, population 1,125, on par with some of the nation’s largest urban communities in terms of mobile broadband service, and provided mobile solutions that have opened new opportunities for many.

In Texas, the number of rural success stories related to high-speed wireless connectivity is growing. From the Panhandle to the Permian Basin and across to the Piney Woods, the Lone Star State is making major strides in accessing opportunities that will allow Texans to be competitive, informed, healthy and economically strong on a global playing field.

It’s clear to me through partnership and collaboration, we can foster a stronger, more vibrant and well-connected rural Texas. Let’s continue to seize these opportunities and connect the Lone Star State with high-speed wireless technology by encouraging partnerships and continued investment from our private sector.