It should be noted that the assessment was conducted during the global COVID-19 pandemic. This worldwide event likely impacted many of the metrics included in this assessment.
Fixed broadband is delivered to a user via several technology platforms including cable, digital subscriber line (DSL) over phone lines, fiber optics, and fixed wireless. Fixed broadband is designed for stationary use at a fixed location such as a home, business, or institution. From one location, however, fixed broadband service is often broadcast as a Wi-Fi network to connect nearby devices.
The following map shows where broadband is available in the community.
Ellis County should maintain focus on greater opportunities for residents, businesses, agriculture, education, and others.
Action 1 – Establish central broadband leadership in Ellis County by making permanent the Technology Action Team formed during Connected Nation’s Connected Engagement Program.
Building on the success of the Ellis County broadband team, a permanent broadband team should be formed with a network of leaders who are passionate about improving broadband throughout the community. A standing group of leaders is already active in the broadband space; it’s a matter of making this team official. This will be especially important as grant opportunities arise. This team should serve as a local group of advisors for activity related to broadband and technology. Members of the broadband team should include representatives from a wide variety of community stakeholders, such as:
- Health care: Local physicians, health care providers
- Government: County judge, county commissioners
- Education (K-12): School superintendents, school/district IT directors
- Education (Higher-Education): University, community college, trade schools or workforce training
- Public Safety: County sheriff’s office, police departments, fire and rescue and surrounding volunteer fire departments, emergency medical services
- Agriculture: County Ag Agent, leading ag producers
- Business: Chambers of commerce (Ennis COC, Italy Texas COC, Midlothian COC, Waxahachie COC), economic development, business owners, managers
- Library: Library directors, librarians
- Community At-Large: Someone from the community who is interested in broadband
Broadband team responsibilities should include:
- Keeping abreast of state and national broadband policy initiatives and notable broadband news. Stay up to date on any publications, events, and policy briefs published by the Governor’s Broadband Development Council (GBDC) and Broadband Development Office (BDO), as well as the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), and other notable broadband developments via industry newsletters and focused research.
- Keeping the community informed of projects and progress and inviting community participation to maintain buy-in and high adoption rates. Getting community buy-in is essential to the long-term success and sustainability of community initiatives. The success of local initiatives requires community support, transparency, and engagement. Not only will this help keep the momentum going but it will show ISPs there is true interest in expanded service in the area, which will encourage greater investment in the region.
- Applying for applicable state and federal grant programs. The broadband team can play a leading role in learning about and coordinating responses to local, state, and federal broadband grant opportunities. The team can also seek funding from philanthropic, private, and corporate funders to support the recommendations in this report, as well as other connectivity priorities the county identifies as important.
- Ensuring digital engagement in all community sectors (telehealth, telework, education, commerce, etc.).
- Developing and maintaining relationships with local ISPs and partnering with some to expand broadband services.
- Attending workshops, webinars, meetings, and general training that discuss telecommunications, and broadband specifically.
- Providing digital literacy and digital skills assistance to the community’s at-risk populations.
- Holding regular meetings. The team should meet at least once a month. Meetings can be held virtually, in person, or in a hybrid capacity to accommodate members’ needs. These meetings should provide updates on community activities, allow time for guest speakers and presentations.
Action 2 – Appoint a Broadband Team leader.
The broadband team needs a point person, a champion for connectivity in the county. Whether paid or volunteer, part-time or full-time, this person will be the point of contact for broadband in the county. This person will stay up to date on broadband policy news, new construction projects in the region, new laws and funding opportunities, as well as maintain visibility to keep the community educated and engaged in internet adoption and expanded deployment.
Establish an official broadband team and select a countywide team leader immediately.
County Judge, Commissioners Court, Economic Director, and Community Broadband Team
- Governor’s Broadband Development Council
- The Texas Statute
- The 2021 Governor's Broadband Development Council's Report
- The 2020 Governor's Broadband Development Council's Report
- The Texas Broadband Development Office
- Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds, County Allocation
- Final Rule
- CN’s list of Current Broadband Funding
- BroadbandUSA: Federal Funding Guide
- Guide to Federal Broadband Funding Opportunities in the U.S.
- Texas Broadband Providers by County
- Smart Cities Readiness Guide
- Next Century Cities Becoming Broadband Ready Toolkit
- Municipal Boards: Best Practices for Adoption Technology
Assist Ellis County’s low-income residents by removing barriers to adoption.
In Ellis County, 67.3% of survey respondents have a fixed internet connection at home. Of those respondents without internet at home, 50% said internet was not available, and 31.3% said it was too expensive. Affordability is a key challenge for many, as the average monthly cost of internet service in Ellis County is $77.12. Half of the households in the community earn less than the median income and thus may find broadband service unaffordable at this price. Two percent of the median household income is $149.67. Some comments provided by the community include:
- "We need better reliability with less costs."
- "Upload speed is absolutely horrible, household income has been reduced as a part-time gamer and it causes family distress weekly due to lack of upload speed and no options for fiber optic."
Additionally, mobile device use is high in Ellis County – 74.6% of survey participants say they have a mobile broadband plan and device. Of this percentage, 18.6% say they use their mobile connection as a primary internet connection or use their mobile service to connect other household devices to the internet.
Action 1 – Promote resources about internet subsidy programs to residents to address affordability concerns.
There are two main federal internet subsidy programs to assist low-income residents with the cost of internet. Ellis County can ensure that eligible residents participate in these programs by promoting them and assisting residents with the enrollment process.
- The Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) was created to help households struggling to afford internet service. The ACP provides a $30 a month credit toward internet coverage ($75 a month for qualifying residents on tribal lands) and up to $100 for the purchase of a device. Households can qualify based on income or participation in Federal or Tribal assistance programs. To receive the connected device discount, consumers need to enroll in the ACP with a participating ISP that offers connected devices. The internet company will provide the discount to the consumer, then seek reimbursement. To find out which providers participate click here. The ACP tool kit is a great resource that communities can use to promote the program to residents.
- Lifeline is a federal program administered through the Federal Communication Commission (FCC) Universal Service Administrative Company that lowers the monthly cost of phone or internet services for eligible consumers. Eligible consumers can get up to $9.25 off the cost of phone, internet, or bundled services each month. Households can qualify based on income or participation in Federal or Tribal assistance programs.
ISPs often have their own low-cost options or subsidized programs offering internet for consumers at a reduced cost, so customers should always ask. The Bipartisan Infrastructure Law (BIL) of 2021 requires ISPs that receive federal grant money to offer low-cost service to eligible low-income households.
Action 2 – Share information with the community about the availability of public computers and free Wi-Fi at libraries.
Public libraries can be a great resource for residents without internet at home. Ellis County is fortunate to have five public libraries with a total of 80 free public computers.
- Ennis Public Library – 16 computers
- Red Oak Library – 10 computers
- Ah Meadows Library – 20 computers
- Ferris Public Library – 6 computers
- Nicholas P Sims Library and Lyceum – 28 computers
The libraries, community organizations, schools, and other local partners should promote the availability of these computers, along with the hours of availability.
Action 3 – Develop a website to promote local broadband resources.
The county should have a page on its website that serves as a one-stop resource guide for ISPs, community residents, and local leaders. The website should include resources related to digital literacy, digital skills, reduced-cost broadband offerings, public computing centers, and other relevant information for residents and ISPs. Having a comprehensive set of resources in one location makes it easier for the public to access this information and for the county to highlight all of the different connectivity supports available.
Partner with libraries and community organizations to provide digital literacy training.
Action 1 – Encourage all libraries in Ellis County to offer digital literacy classes either in person or virtually.
The libraries are doing an excellent job of offering open sources to the community for digital learning, but offering in-person or virtual training can expand opportunities. Instructor-led courses can help relieve fears for new internet users and answer questions quickly.
Workforce Solutions North Central Texas may be a useful resource for digital learning. Its website promotes resume writing tips and other online services. Additionally, Connected Nation is currently offering in-person and online digital literacy classes in basic computer skills that libraries can promote to residents.
Action 2 – Develop a strategy for improving the public libraries’ digital resources and online presence.
Increasing the libraries’ online presence will promote digital literacy among residents, helping them to become more comfortable with navigating the internet. An improved online presence could include more frequent usage of social media, electronic distribution of library surveys, and livestreaming of library events. Having a strategy will help libraries ensure that they are meeting residents’ needs and will allow the broadband team and other community partners to provide support and promote the opportunities in other places. This activity also promotes community broadband adoption, allowing for further inclusion in the digital economy.
Action 3 – Ensure everyone has access and opportunities for digital learning by applying for federal and state funding opportunities.
Ellis County can take advantage of the $2.75 billion Digital Equity Act (DEA) programs offered by NTIA. The objective of these three grant programs is to support the closure of the Digital Divide by expanding access to digital devices and digital training in underserved communities. The Digital Equity Competitive Grant Program is a $1.25 billion grant program that will fund annual grant programs for five years to implement digital equity projects. DEA grant funding will also be provided to the state of Texas for distribution to local digital equity programs.
Libraries and library co-ops, schools, broadband providers, local and county governments, the broadband team
As soon as the broadband team is established, this work should start.
- Schools, Health, and Libraries Broadband Coalition report on broadband subsidies for anchor institutions
- How much internet speed do I need?
- Libraries play extended role in digital equity
- Community anchor institutions can help close the digital divide
- Libraries and the Internet
- National Digital Inclusion Alliance
- 5 Reasons Why Libraries are Essential to Have
- How to Create a Public Computer Center
- Northland Public Library
- First -Ever National Study: Millions of People Rely on Library Computers for Employment, Health, and Education (Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation)
- Improving the Quality of Life in Rural America with Broadband Internet
Provide coverage for gap areas in the county and improve service to customers.
Residents were vocal in their concern about reliability of internet service across the county. Some of the comments were:
- "All the high-speed internet options available to us are unreliable and intermittent. We have two internet providers with service to our home because of the inconsistency and we need at least one reliable connection for work."
- "Huge dead spots on Brown Street and around Felty Elementary."
- "I can’t believe I have had three internet companies, and none work well at my home."
- "I desperately need improved internet service for my job. It is awkward that my subdivision is stuck at 24Mbps DSL while the next subdivision over has fiber."
- "Our entire neighborhood has unreliable internet and limited options. It has been very difficult to do schoolwork through the years. We need better internet."
- "Service is on and off reliability and speed. Trying to do school work, run a business, post online items to see are very frustrating."
- "We would benefit greatly from a high-speed internet in this area of education, work, and entertainment perspectives."
- "When we were looking to buy a house in or neighborhood, it never occurred to us to ask about the internet options before buying. We have considered moving because ours is so bad as we can’t function as a household, and I work from home. Not exaggerating."
Action 1 – Build relationships with internet service providers (ISPs).
Establishing relationships with ISPs can open conversations about increasing speeds in gap areas. Conversations between Ellis County leaders and ISPs can bring attention to unserved/underserved areas, and partnerships can be developed that are inclusive of all areas. The county has assets such as towers for antennas or infrastructure, and ISPs have knowledge on how to run an internet business. Working together can benefit the community.
Action 1A – Consider public-private partnerships.
Public-private partnerships (P3s) take many forms, depending on the needs and resources of each community. The strength of these partnerships is that each party brings something important to the table that the other lacks or cannot easily acquire. For example, Ellis County can offer infrastructure (e.g., publicly owned buildings, light poles, towers, other vertical assets for mounting fixed wireless or wirelines infrastructure) for the deployment of a network, and guarantee committed anchor tenants and funding sources.
- Model 1: Private Investment, Public Facilitation — Make available public assets, share geographic information and systems data, and streamline permitting and inspection processes. Offer economic development incentives to attract private broadband investment.
- Model 2: Private Execution, Public Funding — Identify revenue streams that can be directed to a private partner. Funding may include appropriated payments from the Coronavirus State and Local Fiscal Recovery Funds established by the American Rescue Plan Act of 2021, the Coronavirus Capital Projects Fund, Reconnect Loan and Grant Program, and several others listed on Connected Nation’s website. New revenue streams are likely to become available from the FCC and/or state government.
- Model 3: Shared Investment and Risk — Evaluate how to best use assets to attract private investment, evaluate funding new assets to attract private investment, evaluate building new broadband assets to businesses and/or homes for leasing to private ISPs.
Action 2 – Leverage the demand for broadband across the community to promote competition and investment in broadband services.
Ellis County can celebrate it has 98.78% of households connected at 100Mbps/10Mbps, but this may prevent much of the territory from accessing additional federal infrastructure funds. It will be vital to work with local ISPs to increase speeds where needed and provide coverage in gap areas. One of the most important tools that a community can use to drive competition is harnessing the demand for broadband capacity across the community and its institutions to leverage their collective purchasing power. This not only helps promote greater competition in the broadband market, it also drives increased investment in backhaul and last-mile broadband capacity.
Action 3 –Provide survey results to ISPs.
When meeting with ISPs, it is important to share the results of the survey and provide any other information about broadband access, adoption, and usage you have. Among surveyed households, 65.7% state their internet service does not meet their needs. Slow speeds and an unreliable connection are the top concerns, followed by pricing is too high. It is interesting to note Ellis County has at least 16 internet providers, but only three providers offer a fiber option and another handful offer speeds at or above 100/10 Mbps. Also, the competition is not evenly spread throughout the county as these comments reference:
- "Parkside Estates subdivision in Midlothian only has 75 Mbps AT&T DSL, and it is unreliable to work from home. Other neighborhoods have several fiber and cable options all around us and we have been skipped over. This neighborhood has been very underserved, and I have considered moving due to the limited single internet option available here."
- "I live just outside of Maypearl proper, and only have access to Legacy satellite internet, when in town, they have Legacy Fiber internet"
The broadband team, local units of government, including telecommunication commissions/boards and IT professionals, ISPs, community anchor institutions, and large businesses.
As soon as the broadband team is established, priorities should be set.
- Connected Nation: What we do for you
- Promoting transparency and competition in broadband markets
- Broadband expansion will require cooperation
- The BEAD grant dilemma
- The era of the broadband public-private partnership: New trends and opportunities in the wake of COVID-19
- Competition in the broadband markets
- Texas Broadband Providers by County