As society progresses, amenities like electricity and plumbing that were once luxuries for a privileged few become expected and necessary parts of life. In the house where I grew up, we couldn’t get cable TV because of our location relative to rail lines. That became even more of a hindrance when the world moved beyond dial-up internet through the phone lines and started connecting to the web through the same cables that brought the television signal. Since then, communities have made strides to expand cable connectivity because they recognize that equitable access to communication channels of all kinds is a necessity in the world we live in today.
The internet is the latest in a line of utilities that have become indispensable for modern life, but unfortunately it remains out of reach for many. The COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the importance of using technology to stay connected, but it has also magnified social disparities as those without access struggle to work, attend school or stay in touch with loved ones.
Making broadband more available, more reliable and more affordable in Victoria is the goal of the Victoria Broadband Commission. The commission is made up of representatives from a variety of entities that serve the community—governmental, medical, business and educational institutions—who have all volunteered to help improve the connectedness of our city.
At our most recent meeting, we discussed the needs and struggles of each stakeholder so we can craft solutions that align with those needs. By bringing a diverse group together, we can avoid redundant efforts and ensure our initiatives are based on a big-picture view of the challenges our community is facing.
In 2018, the National Digital Inclusion Alliance ranked Victoria as the 21st worst-connected city among the 623 communities it surveyed, with nearly 30% of households having no subscription to broadband internet service. Part of the problem is that internet providers prefer to set up shop in cities with greater densities of potential customers, while more rural areas like Victoria must get creative to attract providers.
Our lower population density means it generally isn’t cost-effective for companies to install their own hardware here, and those that do so tend to reserve their infrastructure for their own exclusive use. Our hope is to partner with a potentially provider-agnostic outside entity that will install infrastructure that can be leased to multiple internet providers. This will bring more households online and will build an environment of competition and greater consumer choice.
To ensure that we adequately identify and address our digital needs as a community, the City has partnered with Connected Nation Texas, a nonprofit that works to ensure that everyone can gain the benefits of broadband connectivity. They will provide support to the Victoria Broadband Commission through data and expertise, and they will assist us in finding a partnership that brings the right broadband solution to Victoria.
We live in a world where people expect to access the benefits of the internet, and we want to make sure our city’s resources match that expectation. By working together and pursuing creative solutions, we hope to build a Victoria where going online is as easy and commonplace as turning on a light switch.
Darrek Ferrell is an assistant city manager for the City of Victoria.
Want to receive more updates like this? Subscribe to our weekly newsletter, The City View.