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Map Called Key to Faster Internet in Rural Texas

posted on June 18, 2010

DALLAS (AP) -- The first map detailing high-speed Internet access around the state will highlight unserved rural areas in hopes of bringing service to those communities, Texas Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples said Wednesday.

The interactive map unveiled during an online news conference allows computer users to pinpoint availability even down to a specific rural home. Staples says the tool could lead service providers to target future investment.

Although the map shows 96 percent of Texas households have access to high-speed, or broadband, Internet service, Staples said that doesn't mean much to the roughly 250,000 homes without it.

"More than a quarter of a million households in Texas are not currently on the information superhighway, and, in fact, some of those individuals may not even be on a paved road," Staples said.

The $3 million program was funded through federal stimulus money, said Staples spokesman Bryan Black.

The map allows individuals and businesses to search specific areas to see whether broadband access exists and, if so, what services are available. The map features color-coded overlays representing varieties of wired and wireless access, plus areas without any of those services. It also brings up links to providers, which officials say will allow customers to compare prices.

Connected Texas, the nonprofit that did the mapping for the Texas Department of Agriculture, will try to identify areas of strong demand that might persuade providers to move in, said Chief Executive Brian Mefford.

Although broadband access covers most of the state, only about 62 percent of consumers are using it, Mefford said. He said factors include interest, computer access and affordability. Some rural customers with broadband access say reliability is a problem, and Mefford said mappers want information on the quality of service.

"We are asking for individuals, community leaders and businesses to click on the map, see what coverage they have and offer us feedback on their reliability," Mefford said. "This will improve the quality of data included in the map."

The map will be updated in the fall with that input, officials said.

Staples said regions lacking high-speed Internet have limited opportunities for business development and restricted access to higher education, health care and online government.

"Home broadband service is not available to a very large land mass in the state of Texas," Staples said. "We know we may not have large populations in some of those areas, but we want good, solid access."

Tags: agriculture Internet news rural technology Texas