On this episode of Connected Nation, we take you deep into the heart of Texas as the state’s Broadband Development Office hosts a series of public meetings in both large and small communities.
Their goal is to collect input from local residents, business owners, community organizations, Internet Service Providers, and others to create a plan that will help expand and improve high-speed internet access across the state.
Hear from apublic official, a retired couple, and a small provider who all attended a public meeting in Burnet about what it will take to better connect all Texans.
Broadband Development Office - https://comptroller.texas.gov/programs/broadband/
VIDEO: Why it’s important for Texan residents, business owners, and others to attend a BDO public meeting
VIDEO: Why Texas was allocated more federal broadband money than any other state
Jessica Denson, Host (00:06):
This is Connected Nation, an award-winning podcast focused on all things broadband from closing the digital divide to improving your internet speeds. We talk technology topics that impact all of us, our families, and our neighborhoods.
On today's podcast, I take you deep into the heart of Texas. As the State's Broadband development office host a series of public meetings in both large and small communities, their goal is to collect input from local residents, business owners, community organizations, internet service providers, and others to create a plan that will help expand and improve high-speed internet access across the state.
Those public meetings included a stop in Burnett, Texas where I talk with a local public official, a retired couple, and a small provider about what it will take to better connect all Texans.
I'm Jessica Denson and this is Connected Nation.
I am standing at the, uh, Burnett Community Center, and I am standing with Joe Don Dockery. He's the Burnett County Commissioner for Precinct four. Hi. How are you doing? Doing well.
Commissioner Joe Don Dockery (01:15):
Doing well. And you, you gonna have to pay attention. It's burn it. Darn it. Can't you learn it?
Jessica Denson, Host (01:20):
Oh, burn it. I gotta learn it. You're right. That's the same. Let's make sure I say it correctly on this. Thank you. Um, so tell me a little bit about Burnett.
Commissioner Joe Don Dockery (01:29):
Well, I mean, Burnett County is, uh, an interim, I would call it kind of an interim rural county where we're the threshold between Hayes Travis Williamson County to the East, to Lao Blanco and Gillispie County to the West. And we're in need of broadband internet.
Jessica Denson, Host (01:50):
So for people who aren't from here, 'cause this is, this is a national podcast. What does that mean? Uh, it's really a mix of rural and urban. Is that what it is going through here? Talk a little bit about the type of businesses and people and, and things, activities that happen in this area.
Commissioner Joe Don Dockery (02:06):
Well, we're, we're largely driven by tourism because we have a chain of five lakes that adjoin our county on the western side and south side of the county. Uh, we've got, uh, Buchanan Incs, L B J, lake Marble Falls, and Lake Travis, uh, all of which are adjoined Burnett County. And it's a great asset, but, uh, to cross it, you need transportation. Uh, so we need a bridge. And the other thing we need is to have the ability to communicate with each other on a better network.
Jessica Denson, Host (02:37):
So today was one of about two dozen, uh, public meetings that are happening across the state. Uh, I noticed that you sat at the back and you listened to what people were saying. What are are things you're hearing either today, did they mimic things you're hearing from constituents across the county, or are are, is it a mix that some things were surprising, some things you've heard before?
Commissioner Joe Don Dockery (02:56):
No, I, I think most of this we've heard before. Um, I think that the situation that I brought up at the end is we, we, I think, know the challenges and the hurdles, but how do we, how do we get a plan in place that we can address this Burn County's unique, and that we don't own or operate any public utilities, but we want to be the catalyst that brings the, the private providers online with the funding that's gonna be coming down from the state and federal government.
Jessica Denson, Host (03:27):
In your perfect world, what would you like to see happen at the end of these conversations? Just to have a plan or more,
Commissioner Joe Don Dockery (03:34):
I would like to be able to, uh, work with private entities in the federal government and state government to backfill the underserved and unserved areas.
Jessica Denson, Host (03:45):
And, um, I'm, I neglected to ask a little bit about you. Uh, did you grow up here? Did you, uh, do, what does your family do? Do you have family here? What's, what's your background?
Commissioner Joe Don Dockery (03:56):
Yeah, I'm a, I'm a Marble Falls native. I, I grew up in Marble Falls and, uh, I've been serving as a commissioner now for 16 years. So it's, um, now I'm my fifth term. And, uh, this, this area is isn't my backyard. And I, matter of fact, all of the commissioners that are serving on Burnett County Commissioner's, coordin natives to the area. So we, we have this area in our hearts and we wanna make sure that we're doing everything we can to serve our constituents.
Jessica Denson, Host (04:21):
And do you feel like, because you live in this area, you have the guy at the gas station say, Hey, what's going on with this to your parents or, or your kids or, uh, your neighbors like, help us out with this. Right. Are you hearing that from everyone?
Commissioner Joe Don Dockery (04:35):
Oh, absolutely. You know, it's a, it's a, it's a common, uh, grocery store conversation. Yeah. You know, every, everybody wants to know when it's gonna happen and how it's gonna happen.
Jessica Denson, Host (04:44):
Us too. <laugh>. Well, thank you so much. I really appreciate it.
Commissioner Joe Don Dockery (04:47):
Jessica Denson, Host (04:49):
I also talked with a couple who live in the area, Sue and me Lynn, who shared why they felt it was important to take part in these public meetings.
Sue and Ming Linn (04:58):
Uh, we are very frustrated with, uh, our, uh, internet services provided to us. We, uh, moved from City of Austin to be in the rural area just to, um, you know, stay away from the city dwellings and, um, but internet services is a pit <laugh>.
Sue and Ming Linn (05:21):
The internet service is like, uh, uh, <inaudible> slow and, and the, the course of the internet service just keep going up and up and up and up. But the, the quality is never improved.
Sue and Ming Linn (05:37):
We are in Burnett County, but we don't live in city of Burnett. We don't even live in city of Marble Falls. We are even more rural than that.
Jessica Denson, Host (05:47):
Why did you feel that you wanted to share your voice and explain what's going on for your area? Do you think people are getting it wrong? That there's not, they don't know that there's a lack of access out there?
Sue and Ming Linn (06:00):
No. Um, no. But we are, again, we were mostly, uh, city dwellers or for our lives, so we are in shock how, um, moving into rural area, how, uh, neglected we are as far as internet services goes.
Jessica Denson, Host (06:19):
So you were, you took part in one of the work, the round tables, the little workshops, everybody split off into groups just for people who weren't here, there's about 10 groups of, of people of about eight to 10 each. What what were some of the things you were hearing me in your working group today?
Sue and Ming Linn (06:38):
We mostly discuss about the available, the avail, the availability of the internet mostly, and also the cost of it. And how do we get
Jessica Denson, Host (06:50):
It? Is there anything you would add, Sue?
Sue and Ming Linn (06:53):
I came away that realized, uh, or our table per se, per se, is mostly, uh, um, represented by the, um, people who are in the business. You know, the connect connection of it, the, uh, the, the survey of it, the feasibility of it, or the, you know, the big, big business people. And locally as a rural dwellers,
I don't think we really realize how, um, political this, this point, I feel I'm more frustrated than anything. There's a whole huge amount of money out there. But, um, people are still, I mean, as far as the business people, they're still very much like, what's in it for me? Let me grab the biggest part first, then we'll talk about what is services to our little people in the rural area. That frustrates me and I don't know how to tackle it from this point.
Jessica Denson, Host (07:56):
I understand. Totally. Well, thank you Ming and Sue, I really appreciate you both.
Sue and Ming Linn (07:59):
Sure. Thank you very much.
Sue and Ming Linn (08:01):
Thank you. We appreciate you.
Jessica Denson, Host (08:03):
I am now with Jerry Stevens, who is, gimme your official title,
Jerry Stevens, COO (08:07):
Uh, chief Operating Officer.
Jessica Denson, Host (08:09):
For what organization?
Jerry Stevens, COO (08:11):
S o s Communications. We're part of the Valley Texas co-op, which means that we service about 45,000 square miles of the state of Texas with state of the art internet.
Jessica Denson, Host (08:23):
34 thou, I take that's a lot of rural suburban, is it a mix of, uh, areas?
Jerry Stevens, COO (08:29):
It's primarily rural and some suburban. And that has been our focus for the last 14 years.
Jessica Denson, Host (08:35):
Um, at Connected Nation we work on broadband advocacy. And one of our things is you really gotta partner and you gotta remember the small providers because even though there's the big Verizons and t-Mobile's of the world, right? The small providers fill those whole gaps, don't they?
Jerry Stevens, COO (08:49):
And we really care about our customers. And that's where di Digital Lit Literacy becomes a really important issue, you know, is fine to provide internet to folks if they don't know how to use it. So we spend as much time just giving people education on how to make use of the internet for their, you know, for their jobs or their education or their medical needs.
Jessica Denson, Host (09:10):
So a lot of people that work with your organization, they also live in these communities?
Jerry Stevens, COO (09:14):
Oh, yes. Absolutely. That we're very community centered and we work and live in the communities we serve.
Jessica Denson, Host (09:21):
You, you, you've got a big smile on your face. I can't help but be drawn to you, which is why I wanted to interview you. You love this work, right?
Jerry Stevens, COO (09:28):
I wouldn't, there's, I've, I'm in my fifth career. I've never enjoyed anything more. When somebody calls you and say, you changed your life, and I'm thinking, but I'm not a pastor. No. You allowed me to stay home, take care of my kids. I've got an employable job now, all because I have reliable internet. And that's the reward. It's not the money. It's that sense that you're really helping people succeed in their lives and in their endeavor or their business.
Jessica Denson, Host (09:57):
Well, I wish people could see you in person because you're just, you light up the room with your smiling. Just so excited about this, I can tell you. Care. Uh, what's it like, um, to really work and live in the community that you are in and provide these services? You just talked about how you changed lives. Is it exciting to see a community transform?
Jerry Stevens, COO (10:19):
Well, first of all, internet has become as important as fuel, food, and, and light. You know? And so therefore, when you move and we're getting ready to move into Burnett to do this very thing, we're gonna use this room to educate people how to use internet, first of all. And then we're gonna provide services that they can't get. They literally cannot get them to other, from other, other organizations. 'cause we can provide services that will bridge the gap from the one person who's just doing occasional emails, or maybe they're sending their, their grandkids pictures around or whatever, to the high end user. 'cause we can provide that whole continuum, including fiber. Mm-hmm. <affirmative>.
Jessica Denson, Host (11:03):
Um, so today's public meeting is one of several happening. There's like two dozen happening across the state. Were do you feel really positive and excited about this? Do you feel like you heard things you'd heard before? Or are you really excited about the future?
Jerry Stevens, COO (11:16):
No, I see, I see a new, a new day for Texas. It's a new day because I, I've worked at the federal level. I have an aversion trying to get anything done with the federal level. The state is very centered on serving the people of Texas. So I'm really excited about the partnership with the controller's office, the broadband development functions, and the funding that we're gonna have where we can actually see the end user benefiting from it. And that's what I'm really excited about.
This hasn't happened in my career to have the funds move to the state level where they can use like this center and these, and these conferences really get local input. And so the plan is not just some esoteric sky in the high plan. It's a realistic plan based on what people around these tables say they need. And that's a really exciting dimension that I haven't ever seen in my prior careers working with the federal government.
Jessica Denson, Host (12:14):
Well, thank you. I really appreciate your enthusiasm and talking with me today.
Jerry Stevens, COO (12:18):
My, my pleasure is, it is all my pleasure. Thank you so much for the opportunity to share a little bit about what we love doing and, and, and get such gratification from every day.
Jessica Denson, Host (12:30):
Texas was recently allocated $3.3 billion through the broadband equity access and deployment program, also known as bead. As part of the requirements for receiving those federal funds, the state must develop a five-year action plan to better connect unserved and underserved areas of the state.
The broadband development office, which is housed within the Texas Comptroller's office, will take the input and feedback from these public meetings like the one in Burnett and use it to help develop that five-year action plan.
To learn more, head to comptroller texas.gov/programs/broadband. I've also put the link in the description of this podcast.
I'm Jessica Denson. Thanks for listening to Connected Nation. If you like our show and wanna know more about us, head to connected nation.org or look for the latest episodes on iTunes, iHeartRadio, Google Podcast, Pandora, or Spotify.