Nearly half of El Paso County residents and one quarter of El Paso County businesses do not have broadband access, according to a new study commissioned by the El Paso Community Foundation and the County of El Paso.
The El Paso County Broadband Feasibility Study and Market Analysis found that just 56.7% of residents and 72.7% of businesses have broadband internet connections. This is lower than the Federal Communications Commission figure of 96.8%. The eastern portions of the county, particularly the Lower Valley, have the greatest broadband access needs. This lack of access hinders the county’s economic growth.
“The study demonstrates that El Pasoans have lower levels of access to broadband internet connections than FCC reports indicate. Access to reliable, high-speed internet connections are essential for supporting the general economy, particularly the reliance on telework, telehealth, and remote education that has been catalyzed as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” said Mayra Moldonado, executive director of UTEP’s Hunt Institute for Global Competitiveness, which conducted the survey with UTEP’s Mike Loya Center for Innovation and Commerce.
Large portions of respondents to the survey expressed support for some type of involvement by El Paso County in the broadband market. In particular, 55.8% of household respondents approve of El Paso County or one of its partners offering internet services, even if they compete with private sector companies. Nearly as many business respondents (45.4%) expressed support for the same concept.
“El Paso County is working to close the digital divide for our region and so we are pleased to share our Broadband Feasibility Study and Market Analysis, which we achieved with our partners at the El Paso Community Foundation and at UTEP,” El Paso County Judge Ricardo Samaniego said. “Helping to identify where we have gaps in service and infrastructure for broadband sets the stage for how our community can come together for solutions that connect more people to the internet. Improving access to high-speed and affordable broadband across the region is a critical step in helping our community thrive.”
“This study and the work that it informs is some of the most important work we can do right now,” said Eric Pearson, President and CEO of the El Paso Community Foundation. “We have spoken a lot about equity and equality in our society, and acknowledging the inequity allows us to do something about it.”
In addition to assessing the current state of broadband access and infrastructure in El Paso County, the report determines current market conditions and willingness to pay for new services and provides an economic impact study for a proposed broadband expansion program. To achieve these objectives, the Hunt Institute created and distributed surveys to households and businesses to collect data on current broadband access and availability, determine market share, and assess demand for expanded services that may be provided by the county. The report also presents an economic impact study on broadband expansion in El Paso County from 2022 to 2040.
According to the study, large portions of El Paso County do not currently have broadband internet connections. The FCC currently defines a broadband internet connection as being capable of providing download speeds of 25 mbps (megabits per second) and upload speeds of 3 mbps. These benchmark speeds enable many of the telework, telehealth, and remote education platforms that our community relied on during the COVID-19 pandemic and will ensure our community thrives in this post-Covid digital age.
The study recommendations include El Paso County using a variety of different public and public/private models to expand its broadband network. Regardless of how El Paso County chooses to distribute the costs between itself and private partners, the Hunt Institute economic impact study estimates that such a broadband expansion would result in a twofold increase in output within the region, meaning that regional output would be twice as much as spent on the expansion project. These economic benefits would be spread across a 17-year period and are best thought of as a lower bound for the project’s economic impacts.
The Hunt Institute identified and assessed the gaps in broadband services throughout El Paso County in response to the global pandemic caused by COVID-19. The report provides a review of population demographics, education, and economic indicators, as well as an assessment of the potential regional impacts of broadband service amidst the COVID-19 pandemic in El Paso County. This study also estimates the savings from the increased demand for remote education, telehealth, and telework during COVID-19.
The study can be found at: borderplexconnect.org. Borderplex Connect is a regional coalition of public, private, non-profit, and educational partners working to promote digital inclusion. Its mission is to support and provide access to broadband internet, including without limitation internet services, access to devices, and digital skills training in the rural and/or underserved, economically challenged areas of Far West Texas and Southern New Mexico. Borderplex Connect is a supporting organization of the El Paso Community Foundation.