The COVID-19 pandemic has exposed long-seated issues with connectivity in Texas, with almost 900,000 residents lacking broadband internet access across the state. In Central Texas, over 37,000 students are without the high-speed internet needed for online learning, and over 50,000 residents in Austin alone do not have use of the internet. These digital deserts are primarily located in ZIP codes east of Interstate 35, where many families are low-income, food insecure, and children attend low-performing schools – following the same racial divides set by the segregation of Black and Hispanic residents nearly a hundred years ago. Travis County now must tackle three interconnected crises: a public health crisis, an economic crisis, and a digital inclusion crisis.
To ensure that broadband is provided as an essential utility, like water or electricity, throughout the County post-pandemic, Travis County will partner with FUSE Corps for one year to support the launch of the County’s first Office of Broadband Development and Digital Equity. FUSE Executive Fellow, Reyda Taylor, will develop a comprehensive county-wide digital inclusion strategy that will be fulfilled by this new office, ensuring the delivery and adoption of broadband are sustainably funded for years to come. The Executive Fellow will play an essential role in delivering the internet into the hands of every Travis County resident, increasing educational and health outcomes for those low-income neighborhoods and communities of color most impacted by COVID-19.