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Satnews Daily
May 17th, 2016

Don't Mess With Texas As Bandera Electric Cooperative Takes On The Digital Divide... And Succeeds

This determined group has once again taken up a cause and moves forward this time to bring broadband to rural Texas, thereby equalizing the 'digital divide'. 


Seventy-seven years ago, Bandera Electric Cooperative was born out of the determination of local leaders to bring electricity to the rural Texas Hill Country. 

Bandera Electric Cooperative IT Manager Richard McDonald and Special Projects Manager David Swint examine BEC's new broadband network equipment prior to installation. Providing broadband Internet services in Bandera will allow people to work from home and access telemedicine and distance learning opportunities.

"It was our early members' dedication and community spirit which enabled our communities to thrive through the 20th century," said BEC Chief Executive Officer William Hetherington. "In this new century, we are once again seeing a disparity of essential services, however this is not about electrification, this is about the 'digital divide'." 

The digital divide is characterized by the lack of adequate high-speed data or telecommunication services known as "broadband" in rural Texas. According to broadband report commissioned by the Strategic Networks Group in partnership with the Rural Telecommunications Congress, less than half of Texans living outside an urban area have access to affordable, reliable broadband service. Texas ranks at the bottom of the list at number 44 of 48 states surveyed for access to rural broadband.

"Electric Cooperatives have improved the quality of life for those in rural areas since first chartering in the 1930s," said Mike Williams, Texas Electric Cooperative Association president and CEO. "Now, cooperatives like Bandera Electric are demonstrating their commitment to this mission not only through electrification, but through their efforts to bring access to reliable high-speed Internet to their members." 

On Saturday, May 21, at the BEC annual meeting, Hetherington will "light" the fiber which will deliver high-speed broadband service to the city of Bandera. Hundreds of homes and business will, for the first time, have access to the Internet via a public access Wi-Fi network. 

"In a time when demographic changes are reflecting population decreases across rural America to urban areas, this is a technology that will allow people to work from anywhere and access telemedicine and distance learning opportunities," Hetherington says. "Many students in rural areas must rely on local libraries for the Internet access they cannot get at home. Unfortunately, the libraries close at 6 p.m. Access to the world of knowledge through the Internet is as essential in education these days as textbooks."

The in-home wireless service will be available to Bandera residents after completion of the pilot program. BEC plans to roll out an expanded offering of higher-speed services to Bandera residents, available by subscription, later this year. Reliable Internet services ranging from 10 megabits per second to a gigabit per second are expected to be available for business and residential customers, and require no internal equipment in the home. The free public access Wi-Fi network will be available throughout the downtown areas along with Bandera City Park and in Mansfield Park on Highway 16.

About Bandera Electric: Bandera Electric Cooperative currently serves nearly 24,000 members and provides electric service to almost 34,000 meters in a seven county territory in the Texas Hill Country.  As a member-owned cooperative, BEC continually searches for new, innovative programs to promote energy efficiency and quality member service.  Find more information about BEC at BanderaElectric.com