Travis County seeks to expand internet access with St. David’s Foundation grant

Travis County officials and the St. David’s Foundation are working together to bridge the digital divide between the Internet and Travis County families.

“Together we will ensure Internet access is equitable for everyone in our community,” said Travis County Judge Andy Brown.

The Travis County Commissioners Court, during its session, voted unanimously to receive the $150,000 grant from the St. David’s Foundation along with $80,000 previously provided by the City of Austin to help improve the To contribute to equity in Internet access throughout Travis County.

The grant will go to research where there are gaps in broadband access in the county. Office of Telecoms and Regulatory Affairs staff will conduct door-to-door canvassing and conduct community surveys to better understand where the need for broadband access is, said Chloe Mun, technology and operations program manager.

Mun said the gaps are likely a combination of a lack of affordable Wi-Fi, devices and training on how to use those devices.

Khotan Harmon, senior program manager for telecommunications and regulatory affairs for the city of Austin, said she’s heard stories about kids going to restaurants for Wi-Fi and elderly people who didn’t have access to telemedicine.

As of 2020, just over 45,000 Travis County homes didn’t have Internet access, and about 17,000 Travis County students didn’t have computers or access to the Internet, Brown said during an Oct. 25 news conference.

“We have to make sure everyone has access [to the internet]said District 3 Commissioner Ann Howard. “I’m grateful that Travis County is taking the lead and working with the city and St. David’s to make this happen.”

District 1 Commissioner Jeff Travillion said people are getting their information from their cell phones rather than the “6 o’clock news on TV” so there must be internet access for everyone.

“With partnerships and grants like this, we can begin to fulfill communities,” Travillion said. “It’s a really good first step, but we still have a lot more steps to take together and a lot more dots to connect.”

Travillion said he wants to make sure that every student growing up in Travis County can one day work for big companies like Apple, Google, Tesla and Samsung “because we gave them the resources they needed to learn.”

Abena Asante, senior program officer at St. David’s Foundation, said she is excited about the partnership.

“The St. David’s Foundation is on a mission to create an inclusive place where everyone can thrive and reach their full potential,” Asante said. “We recognize that broadband access, affordability and usage are a necessity, not a luxury.”

Broadband, she said, is no less important than the electricity that powers homes.

“It was said that [the internet] is a third utility along with electricity and water,” Asante said.

Asante said there are “far too many marginalized and historically excluded communities” in parts of Travis County that don’t have access to broadband. She said they remain “what we call unserved and underserved.” She said these people remain digitally excluded.

“The treatment of this issue is now,” Asante said. “There is still work to be done to ensure full digital access and inclusion.”