OPINION

Cobler: Rural readers share many tales of internet woe

CHRIS COBLER

Rural Texans have a lot to say about the lack of broadband service in their communities. Since we covered the topic earlier this month, many readers have emailed to share their stories and pleas for help.

An example is the email from reader Kathryn Steuart of Freestone County, who reads the column in the Fairfield Recorder. In her east central Texas county of 20,000, she reports that cell phones don’t even work well. She and her husband pay for internet via a high-priced satellite service, which isn’t sufficient to allow her to work from home.

An IBM AIX and Linux system administrator, Steuart said she has explored a variety of solutions, but found nothing.

“We were willing/desperate to pay to have wire strung and present ourselves as a business to get decent speed internet,” she wrote. “The rural phone companies are not incentivized to provide this service and quit answering calls. They go broke too often, as well.”

She said she has some hope for Elon Musk’s Starlink company, which is launching thousands of satellites promising accessible and affordable high-speed internet. Initial pricing is $99 a month with an upfront hardware purchase of $500. However, this project is in a testing phase dubbed “Better Than Nothing Beta,” and the company warns customers of varying connectivity speeds and occasional outages during the startup period.

Most employers won’t hire remote workers with only satellite connections, Steuart said.

For more on the subject, watch a replay of the panel discussion “Broadband is a Lifeline” at TexasTribune.org. “Capital Highlights” will monitor how state lawmakers address the issue when they convene in January. For resources on advocating for solutions, contact Connected Nation Texas.

COVID battle rages on

Gov. Greg Abbott touted some good news in Texas’ fight against COVID-19.

“Medicines are delivered this week – and every week going forward – to heal those who get COVID,” the governor tweeted. “Vaccines to prevent COVID are expected soon. Medical teams are being surged to areas that need it most.”

Earlier in the day, Abbott visited Lubbock, which is confronting a surge in cases. There, he provided an update on the distribution of bamlanivimab, an antibody therapy for COVID-19. The state is sending first shipments of the drug to hospitals in regions with the highest number of new case counts, new COVID-19 hospital admissions and total COVID-19 hospital patients.

Abbott emphasized he would not be ordering any new statewide business restrictions and encouraged people to follow the same health practices, including wearing a mask and socially distancing, that helped during the state’s spike in cases in July.

Texas has reported over 20,000 COVID deaths since the pandemic began, the Texas Tribune reported, based on data from the Texas Department of State Health Services.

A Thanksgiving gift

Texas A&M Chancellor John Sharp encouraged all students to get a COVID-19 test before leaving campus for the Thanksgiving break. 

Sharp asked the Texas Division of Emergency Management, which is part of the Texas A&M System, to help the system get testing vans and tents to all campuses before the holiday.

“The greatest gift a student can give his or her family – including parents and grandparents – during this holiday season is the gift of a negative COVID test,” Chancellor Sharp said. “Let’s do all we can to stop this pandemic and get back to life as we knew it. Thanks to everyone who chooses to take a test before heading home.”

Thankful and careful

The safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving this year is with only those already living in your household, the Texas Department of Family and Protective Services advises. 

If you’re planning to celebrate with others, the agency suggests that you take steps to make your celebration safer by following guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. They include:

• Wear a mask that fits securely over your mouth and nose and around your face.

• Stay at least 6 feet away from those who don’t live in your household.

• If inviting others over, have a small outdoor gathering rather than an inside meal.

The CDC also encourages people to consider other activities rather than a traditional meal with people outside their household. The agency’s suggestions include:

• Safely prepare traditional dishes and deliver them to family and neighbors in a way that does not involve contact with others. For example, leave them on the porch.

• Participate in a gratitude activity, like writing down things you are grateful for and sharing with your friends and family.

Chris Cobler is a board member and past president of the Freedom of Information Foundation of Texas. He welcomes email at ccobler@texaspress.com.