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In the vast expanse of the Lone Star State, where the skies are big and the opportunities even bigger, there is a gap that threatens the very core of what makes Texas great: the digital divide.

As technology advances at an unprecedented pace, a significant portion of the state is being left behind in the race to connect, learn and prosper. Almost 2.8 million households and 7 million Texans lack access to broadband, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

Broadband refers to always-on, high-speed internet access, which has become a basic requirement of modern living. Rural areas of our state are the most underserved. At least 20 Texas counties have zero access to reliable, high-speed broadband internet.

In Cameron and Hidalgo counties, 26.3% and 19.6% of households, respectively, do not have broadband internet service. When looking at neighboring rural counties like Duval County, that number jumps even higher — to 35.2%.

The Texas Broadband Development Office recently released its draft Texas Digital Opportunity Plan, which outlines how the state will make it easier for all Texans to access and use the internet. Both state and federal governments are investing a historic amount to bring all Texans into the digital age. The Texas legislature recently appropriated $1.5 billion to the Texas Comptroller of Public Accounts to support Broadband Development Office programs.

In addition, the American Rescue Plan Act enacted by the federal government has allocated $500.5 million to Texas for broadband expansion, while the Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act allocated over $3.3 billion. Communities that have long been marginalized without broadband access must be at the forefront of this planning process.

Historically, rural communities, communities of color and low-income families in Texas have disproportionately lacked internet access, according to a 2016 Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas report.

Faster, quality internet can improve people’s lives by providing better access to jobs, health care, education and essential services, no matter where they live.

The Texas economy is already the eighth largest in the world, valued at more than $2.4 trillion, and was first in the nation in over-the-year job growth with 391,500 jobs gained from Oct. 2022 to Oct. 2023.

The digital revolution has shifted the way we do business forever. But there are areas of the state left out of this growth based on the lack of broadband access.

Digital technologies anchored by high-speed internet can help businesses generate revenue, expand their reach and participate in larger vendor networks. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Technology Engagement Center, increased access to digital tools over three years could generate nearly $6.7 billion in increased annual sales for rural Texas businesses while creating more than 23,000 jobs.

Even our farmers depend on broadband for autonomous machinery, data-driven irrigation sensors and web-enabled sales platforms.

When it comes to health care, Texas leads the nation in rural hospital closures. With about 15% of Texas’ population in rural areas, access to broadband and the potential for telemedicine, or virtual health services, could save lives. Even when rural areas of Texas have hospitals, 21% of them still report having internet service speeds that are too slow, according to the 2022 Texas Rural Hospital Survey.

With regard to education, the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the state’s dire homework gap. When students don’t have home computers or internet, they often can’t complete required assignments or access educational tools. The Classroom Connectivity Initiative, a public-private partnership increasing access to broadband for Texas’ public schools, estimates that nearly 275,000 Texas students lack the broadband needed for effective digital learning.

The data show the clear problems generated by a lack of broadband access. What they don’t always show are the valuable input and opinions of those who face these problems daily.

Texas has a plan for the solutions we need, but we must have the communities at the center of the digital divide be at the center of our conversations. From now through Jan. 5, all Texans can read and provide input on the Texas Digital Opportunity Plan at

Manuel Cruz is executive director of the Lower Rio Grande Valley Development Council and has served as co-chair of the Texas Broadband Development Office South Texas region’s working group.