COPPERAS COVE – U.S. Congressman Roger Williams announced Friday that he has introduced a bill to fund a $10 billion program to help Texas and other states expand broadband internet coverage throughout rural areas including District 25, which encompasses Coryell, Lampasas, and parts of Bell counties.
City, county and school district officials from Copperas Cove, Gatesville, Killeen and Lampasas joined Williams at the Copperas Cove Independent School District administration offices to unveil the Eliminate the Digital Divide Act. Texas Sen. John Cornyn is sponsoring a similar bill in the U.S. Senate, along with West Virginia Sen. Joe Manchin.
“The bill allows governors to direct federal dollars to unserved and low-income areas, so they can carry out individual broadband networks and receive low-cost broadband services. The need for greater, more reliable internet access comes up in almost every stop I make in this district,” said Williams, R-Austin.
“We’ve heard stories across our communities of students not having access to internet when they leave school, and being forced to use parking lots with hotspots to do their homework. And in some instances, teachers have had to deliver hand-printed packets, so students can receive learning materials,” he said. “Broadband is vitally important to economic development. It is impossible to invest in new infrastructure, like mapping out new roads and building new bridges, without fast, high-quality internet. Now, in the midst of a once-in-a-lifetime public health crisis, the need for broadband access to resources and health care delivery has never been more important. The arrival of COVID-19 reinforced what we already knew – that our Texas communities were under-served and in desperate need of high-speed internet access.”
Killeen school district Superintendent John Craft said improved connectivity to high-speed Internet for all students is a tremendous challenge, particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic shut down schools last spring and created the need for widespread virtual learning.
“We quickly transitioned 45,000 students last spring to an all-virtual platform,” Craft said. “We knew at that time we were not connecting with each and every student. Fast-forward to the beginning of this new school year, and we had over 44,000 students begin virtually for the first two weeks, before we transitioned and made the face-to-face environment available to those who opted to come back.
“With an all virtual start, we quickly realized that students not having connectivity forced us into a position of having to give students the option to return to face-to-face instruction. Even in Bell County, in a large suburban school district, we realized that connectivity is the (biggest) challenge, particularly for our virtual learners.
“If you think about it, without the internet connectivity, and being able to reach every student in every household — particularly given the nature of a pandemic — we’d simply be dead in the water. I think this is going to prove to be a vital piece of legislation to support our communities in the very near future.”
Williams said he expects the bill to be approved “very quickly” when Congress reconvenes, and work on expanding broadband services could begin the first quarter of next year.