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Connected Nation

More on the broadband map of Texas

Shouldn’t a map that purports to document broadband availability in Texas do a better job than this of actually including broadband providers?

At an unveiling last month, the Texas Department of Agriculture touted its map of broadband Internet availability as the first step in closing a “digital divide” that denies rural Texans critical services.

But a political divide has opened instead, as critics question the tool’s accuracy and Agriculture Commissioner Todd Staples’ relationship with the organization that created it.

Staples’ Democratic rival, Hank Gilbert, and a handful of local providers, consumer groups and mapping organizations say the agency tailored the application to fit Connected Nation, the nonprofit selected by the department and the Texas Public Utility Commission to create the map. The Agriculture Department and the company defend the process, while their critics contend that the map will direct federal stimulus money toward major telecommunications companies at the expense of smaller Internet providers.

“They hit the big guys,” said James Breeden, founder of LiveAir Networks, which covers rural parts of Central Texas. “I didn’t even know they were putting together a broadband map until I saw it on the news and went ‘Oh.’ Then I logged in and went, ‘Oh, really!’ ”

He said he couldn’t find his company or two nearby providers on the map. Some areas didn’t show the correct distributor. Others named one when none existed. “The map is just off. It’s not technically accurate,” he said.

Perhaps if the Department of Agriculture had hired a local non-profit to do this work instead of sending the stimulus dollars that paid for it out of state, the results might have been better. There’s a lot of other questions about the process that led to this map as well as the map itself, which the article does a good job of highlighting. I’m sure there’s more there as well, if someone has the time to dig in. Check it out and see what you think.