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Johnson: We must close the digital divide in East Texas to keep students learning

Steven E. Johnson

Steven E. Johnson

As our nation grapples with the COVID-19 crisis, school systems and higher education institutions are required to quickly adapt to online learning without knowing how long this will continue.

The scale of adoption for educators and learners affected by this urgent switch to remote, online learning raises issues about equity and access. In particular, it draws attention to Texas’s troubling digital divide that disproportionately affects rural areas in our state, like here in East Texas. According to a report by Connected Nation, “Rural Broadband: A Texas Tour,” 1.8 million Texans, most of them in rural areas, don’t have high-speed internet access.

Under the Connect America Fund, The Federal Communications Commission authorized $1.5 billion to expand broadband access to thousands of underserved areas in the U.S. This initiative is estimated to reach less than 2% of Texans who need broadband access more urgently. Additionally, the FCC authorized $76.7 million over the next 10 years to broadband providers in the Lone Star State to provide support and services to 89 Texas counties, from the Gulf Coast to the Panhandle.

These steps in the right direction are welcome. But in light of the COVID-19 crisis, East Texas can’t afford to wait two years, much less 10, for adequate broadband access.

At WGU Texas, a pioneer of online education, 17% of our students are from rural areas. While we want to serve more rural residents, we are limited in our ability to do so until broadband internet is expanded to all corners of the state. Then, we can offer a practical, convenient and cost-effective solution via online education, and a pathway to higher educational attainment.

We have seen firsthand that improving the quality of, and access to, education increases the opportunity for those who complete our programs. But we can’t accomplish this alone; we need help from partners in East Texas and across the state. Our goal in advocating for expansion of broadband access is to improve education and economic opportunities for Texans by making educational attainment as accessible and affordable as possible.

At WGU Texas, we believe in education without boundaries, and we believe in doing our part to remove barriers to any Texans seeking to fulfill their potential. Please join us in calling for expanded broadband access for rural Texas by contacting your state representatives in the Texas legislature. Together, we can create a new gateway to opportunity for Texas families and communities.

— Steven E. Johnson, chancellor of WGU Texas, is an appointed member of Gov. Greg Abbott’s Broadband Development Council.

Today's Bible verse

“Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ will enter the kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father who is in heave will enter.

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