The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many Texans to limit travel and work or take classes from home. This has increased the dependence on high-speed internet across the state and emphasized the challenges faced in communities without broadband access and adoption.
In 2020, the Governor’s Broadband Development Council issued its first report to the Texas Legislature after members were appointed in January 2020, only a few months before the COVID-19 pandemic hit Texas.1
The council found that more than 300,000 locations in Texas are underserved, and as of July 2020, an estimated 926,859 Texans do not have access to broadband at home.
The 2019 American Community Survey from the U.S. Census Bureau found that only 67.6% of Texas households have broadband at home—placing the state below the national average of 70.8% of households.2
The COVID-19 pandemic has reinforced the importance of reliable broadband-based educational services for K-12 and higher education; however, this need has been present for years.
An October 2019 publication from the Texas Comptroller reported that limited broadband access in their homes can prevent students from completing their homework outside of school and present challenges for rural students seeking higher education opportunities.3
What does this mean for the real estate industry?
Increased access to broadband internet is a critical infrastructure goal that would benefit individual Texans and the state overall in several ways.
With increased access, real estate consumers will be provided with more housing options as more Texans have the option to work remotely. This would bring economic development opportunities for smaller communities outside of the state’s metro areas.
Enhanced broadband access will also provide real estate professionals with greater ability to conduct business in the field, shortening wait times that only exist for the parties to reach a service area when minutes can make a difference.
In addition, increased broadband access is necessary for educational and professional success.
One estimate finds that increased access to digital tools could generate more than $6.6 billion in increased annual sales for rural Texas businesses.4
Texas REALTORS® position
This year we have seen the importance of technology access and it is only becoming more crucial for educational and economic success, and therefore Texas REALTORS® supports the development of and increased access to broadband technologies throughout the state.
In 2021, legislators will make broadband access a high priority. The Legislature is expected to take action to improve connectivity in rural and underserved areas.
The Legislature is likely to create a state broadband plan and establish a state broadband office. Legislators are also expected to continue studying the development of a state broadband funding program to incentivize deployment in unserved areas.
In 2019, the Legislature passed broadband-related legislation, including laws that created the Governor’s Broadband Development Council; laws that authorize electric cooperatives to provide highspeed internet service to their customers using the cooperative’s existing electricity easements; and laws to allow broadband providers to work with the Texas Department of Transportation to deploy broadband access using the state’s right-of-way.
1. “2020 Governor’s Broadband Development Council Report,” November 2020, https://gov.texas.gov/uploads/files/press/2020_ Texas_Report_-_Governors_Broadband_Development_Council. pdf
3. “Texas’ Digital Divide: The State of Broadband in Texas’ Rural Communities,” Fiscal Notes, October 2019, https://comptroller. texas.gov/economy/fiscal-notes/2019/oct/divide.php