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Ector County, Texas Broadband Task Force Seeks $1.2 Million in Funding

(TNS) – Ector County ISD Superintendent Scott Muri has requested $1.2 million from Ector County Commissioners as part of the ConnEctor Task Force’s efforts to bring broadband to affordable broadband in the region.

Muri said 25% of that had to come from the local community.

Commissioners listened, but no vote was taken.

Muri said he and other task force members at Tuesday’s meeting were seeking funds to create a 501c3 nonprofit called the Broadband Connector Office.

The office would be community-based and governed by a board made up of community members. A broadband board member will have an engineering background. Other members will come from the nonprofit community, utility providers, as well as local county governments, if the county funds this effort.

Once a board of directors is established, the council will hire an executive director to oversee the work for the next three years.

“This Executive Director position will be a full-time position responsible for generating the dollars that will fund this, as well as executing this out-of-the-box plan within our community,” Muri said.

He added that there are initial start-up costs. The $1.2 million would be spent over three years to hire the executive director “and do the work of the broadband office to bring broadband to our community.”

“We will retain legal counsel in setting up this 501 c3 and the work done by the CEO will have legal support. We will hire a coordinator to support the start of this process. We will have a communication plan, so part of this expense will also be to communicate… One of the things we have learned through this process is that educating our community is critically important There are individuals, families and businesses who will need to understand the broadband important to you?how would it affect your business?how does it affect your family etc. So part of this job will just be to educate our community on these opportunities,” Muri said.

“We will also provide technical support using these funds for the implementation of our plan…”, he added.

He said they will also need technical assistance to complete and complete the grant process as it is complex.

“We need to demonstrate as a community that this investment is something we want. It’s something we are committed to and there are a variety of actions we need to take locally in order to qualify for these federal dollars.” , Muri said.

They would begin identifying board members in November and form the connector office.

In December, they would establish a charter, a mission and objectives. They would also make a working budget with the consultation of a lawyer.

In late December-early January they would initiate a search for an executive director and in January and early February they would hire the executive director and from January to February they would go through the preparation and application process for federal funds.

Muri said they plan to learn more about how much the state of Texas will receive in the new year.

Gaby Rowe, who led the Operation Connectivity team for Texas during COVID, pointed out that this is a competitive process and that $4 billion is not close to the amount the state needs to bring in. last-mile connectivity to every home in the state.

It would take five, six or even 10 times longer, Rowe said.

The preparation phase lasts 12 to 18 months and the construction phase is around 12 months, she said.

Along with education around broadband adoption, there is also a workforce development component, which means developing training courses for local citizens to become installer technicians, connectivity service technicians working with local higher education to develop this as sustainable programs in the community to create jobs, Rowe says.

“The bigger the share of what’s happening in the community, the higher the score with a competitive offer,” Rowe said. “It’s not just a win-win to bring the connectivity and economic development that comes with it, but it also comes with workforce development and digital skills for citizens,” Rowe said. .

The Texas Comptroller’s Office and the federal government will soon begin the process of allocating the funds.

“The federal government has a competitive grant process in place. But we anticipate that in the state of Texas alone, we will have access to $4 billion as a state. But those dollars will be distributed on a competitive basis. simply won’t apply and receive. There will be very strict guidelines in place. It will be communities like ours that are currently one of four communities in our state of Texas that have brought together a cross-functional group of individuals who are focused on bringing broadband broadband to its community,” added Muri.

He said it will be groups like the ConnEctor Taskforce and communities like this that will have access to those dollars.

When the infrastructure is built, it will be self-sufficient. The county wouldn’t have to subsidize it in perpetuity, Muri said.

“…Not every community in Texas will receive these dollars. There will be winners and there will be losers and this is our chance as a community to be a winner in this competitive grant process… “Muri said.

Only 16% of people in rural areas have access to fixed broadband, Muri said.

“In western and southern Odessa, almost one in four people, families, have connected households. Home broadband is $58 and that’s the case in our county today.Access is an economic driver in the state of Texas.One in five students in the Ector County Independent School District don’t rarely or never has reliable Internet access in his or her home. …Students without reliable Internet access are found throughout our county; not in specific areas or pockets. This issue affects all of Ector County,” said Muri said.

“About one in six households in western and southern Odessa report having no internet connection. … Most households with internet subscriptions in western and southern Odessa, or 75%, are unhappy with the current internet service provided to their home and nearly all respondents to a survey we conducted, 99% of families, are interested in more choice and options for the internet service providers currently powering their home added Muri.

Commissioner Greg Simmons said broadband would be a benefit, but he still has questions.

“I’m still curious as to why the federal government is handing out the money and they’ve done it before. I still don’t understand why private entities aren’t able to do it. I understand the investment is high, but if the investment comes from the federal government…” Simmons said.

Rowe said the federal government has tried giving funds directly to private entities before, but it hasn’t worked.

County Judge Debi Hays questioned why existing government programs couldn’t be used to help people pay for the internet.

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