Time is running out to make your voice heard in the first component of Bastrop County’s effort to improve internet availability, as a county-wide broadband internet survey will close this week.
In July, the Bastrop County Broadband Committee and nonprofit Connected Nation Texas launched an effort to survey the county, identify areas that have no or limited internet access and develop solutions for expanding that access.
The large broadband coalition consists of utility companies, broadband providers, school districts, chambers of commerce, local economic development corporations, medical providers and more. Additionally, there is a smaller broadband task force made up of representatives from the county and Bastrop County Cares. The St. David’s Foundation gave the initial funding for this project of $41,000 in response to COVID-19, and donors raised an extra $11,000. These donors include the Hogg Foundation, the Bastrop, Elgin and Smithville economic development corporations, First National Bank and Frontier Bank.
“This is a very expensive project, but it's really critical for our businesses, for our children, for people to get resources and information they need to have successful lives,” said Debbie Bresette, the executive director of Bastrop County Cares and a member of the broadband task force.
The survey, which closes on October 15, has been open for a little over a month. There are nine types of surveys available for different county residents or organizations: household, business, agriculture, health, higher education, K-12 education, libraries and organizations, public safety and government.
Connected Nation has a goal for how many responses are gathered for each category in Bastrop County. So far, the survey has received 148% of the recommended goal for residential responses, 98% for businesses, 100% for libraries and community organizations and 211% for K-12 education, as well as a good response from healthcare and government organizations.
“We'd love to have more nonprofits and rotaries and those groups sign up,” Bresette said “We'd love to have more businesses sign up, because it's so important, especially those businesses that may be smaller and run out of people's homes.”
The survey can be taken online at www.myconnectedcommunity.org/bastrop-county/, but paper surveys are also available in both English and Spanish at libraries, as well as county annexes across the county:
- Bastrop: 804 Pecan Street
- Elgin: 704 Bull Run Road
- Cedar Creek: 5540 FM 535
- Smithville: 1624 NE Loop 230
“We're asking people who can do it online to please do it online,” Bresette said. “It is so important for people to fill out the survey to have their voices heard. Even if you only operate on a cell phone and get horrible service, you can still fill out the survey, and we want you too, you're probably some of the most important people to fill out this survey.”
The next step will be to map the survey responses across the community; if there are any pockets of the community the committee is concerned about, they might go out and ask people to take the survey, Bresette said. Once the map is done, they can also look for potential broken equipment.
The task force will review the survey results and potentially reach out to more communities in November. The entire process is scheduled to finish by the end of the year, and the committee will hold a community meeting in January to start developing an action plan.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, internet access has been important for entities such as schools and their students, and medical providers and their patients, as they pivot to online learning and telehealth services.
“That being said, I think we have moved to a future where we're going to be doing more things online,” Bresette said. “We are a growing community, and we're still a rural community by and large. We want to ensure that our children can be just as competitive in their educational life and work life as others, and we want to ensure that our county can be just as competitive in recruiting businesses that we want that are a fit with our values as any other community in the state.”