UHV Center for Regional Collaboration teams up with nonprofit on rural broadband
As the pandemic has caused more people to work and learn from home, internet bandwidth has become a necessity to continue life as normally as possible.
The University of Houston-Victoria Center for Regional Collaboration has teamed up with other organizations to help rural communities in DeWitt, Lavaca and Refugio counties get broadband internet service for their residents.
“We were hearing stories about families gathering outside their community’s library after hours to use the facility’s Wi-Fi for homework and emails,” said Donald Jirkovsky, director for the center. “In these small, rural towns, some residents don’t even have a sufficient connection at home. So, we started looking into the prospect of helping these communities get broadband, which has a higher internet speed and affordability.”
The project started shortly before the pandemic, when center employees met with UHV President Bob Glenn. One challenge brought up was internet services in rural communities. There was either a lack of internet access in small towns, or residents could not afford the service, Jirkovsky said.
After the coronavirus pandemic started to spread across the country and shut down schools and businesses for in-person meetings, the need for broadband in rural communities accelerated.
The center soon was connected to Texas Rural Funders, a coalition of funding organizations that works to bring additional attention and resources to rural Texas. One of TRF’s signature issues is rural broadband access and digital connectivity. This network has funded Connected Nation Texas to engage 27 rural communities across the state and support them in developing technology action plans. Community leaders can then use the plans in a presentation to service providers, along with applying for funding, to help get the necessary broadband service for the community.
DeWitt, Lavaca and Refugio counties are among communities chosen to receive funding from the group for the initiative. Connected Nation Texas, a nonprofit working with Texas Rural Funders to help Texans get connected and understand broadband, will gather data and work with community leaders to develop technology action plans for the three counties.
Connected Nation Texas uses data collected through surveys to better understand the broadband needs and challenges of each community. Those areas include whether residents and businesses have physical access to broadband, whether current connectivity is meeting the community’s needs, and the community’s knowledge of how to use broadband.
Through these surveys, Connected Nation Texas pulls information from all parts of the community – local government; public buildings, including libraries and schools; health care facilities; residents; and agricultural and other businesses.
In Cuero, internet issues were exacerbated by the pandemic because more people were working and learning from home, said Angie Cuellar, director of the Cuero Chamber of Commerce. Community leaders connected with the Center for Regional Collaboration to learn about the project to help rural communities get adequate and affordable broadband service.
“This is really a way for our community to express its needs and get data that can point out what is lacking in service,” Cuellar said. “We are grateful to work with UHV and Connected Nation Texas. Internet broadband service is a hot topic and an essential service in communities across the country, and the work we are doing now lays the groundwork for us to look into federal funding.”
Once data is collected, it will be presented to community leaders for discussions about goals and priorities with broadband and to build a plan. Each plan will be unique to the needs and goals of that community, said Jennifer Harris, state program director for Connected Nation Texas.
“Donald and his staff have been incredible partners on this project, and they are the reason we are able to identify these communities,” Harris said. “Connected Nation Texas is incredibly appreciative of the local support and boots on the ground for this initiative. These projects are stronger when we have champions in the communities and their support is critical to ultimately improving lives through the use of broadband and related technologies.”
The Center for Regional Collaboration is asking residents of DeWitt, Lavaca and Refugio counties to fill out and complete the surveys within the next couple of months so that data can be collected for Connected Nation Texas. Each county has its own website:
- DeWitt County – myconnectedcommunity.org/dewitt-county
- Lavaca County – org/lavaca-county
- Refugio County – org/refugio-county
For more information about Connected Nation Texas, visit www.connectednation.org/texas.
For more information about the center and the project, contact the UHV Center for Regional Collaboration at 361-485-4949 or firstname.lastname@example.org.
The University of Houston-Victoria, located in the heart of the Coastal Bend region since 1973 in Victoria, Texas, offers courses leading to more than 80 academic programs in the schools of Arts & Sciences; Business Administration; and Education, Health Professions & Human Development. UHV provides face-to-face classes at its Victoria campus, as well as an instructional site in Katy, Texas, and online classes that students can take from anywhere. UHV supports the American Association of State Colleges and Universities Opportunities for All initiative to increase awareness about state colleges and universities and the important role they have in providing a high-quality and accessible education to an increasingly diverse student population, as well as contributing to regional and state economic development.