Broadband Partners in Education & More

Addressing the “summer slide” for the digital disadvantaged is something that Etex has been pursuing with its local education and faith communities long before the shutdown. In the above ViodiTV Real-Time Conversation, Charlie Cano, Etex’s General Manager/CEO, talks about their efforts to use its broadband platform to help students all year long.

The approach they came up with that involves providing broadband credits to teachers and families as an incentive for summer learning. This program sprouted from the relationships that Etex management had with its local educational institutions. Since 2016, Etex has grown from a service territory of 710 square miles to 3,700 square miles, thanks in large part to the fiber network they built for connecting their local schools.

Etex’s fiber network put them in a position to rapidly adapt to school from home. Cano explains that the biggest barrier to the continued expansion of broadband is the funding issues associated with the Texas Universal Service Fund, which the Texas Telephone Association’s (Cano is a board member), analysis suggests will run out of money by February 2021, unless the Texas PUC intervenes with a rate adjustment.

Finally, Cano provides insight into his great American success story and the unique ways he is passing on the wisdom he has picked up along the way.

Interview Highlights:

Click the timecode below to go directly to that section of the conversation.

  • 01:05 – Cano presents a graphic that shows their services, as well as how they have grown from 710 to 3,700 square miles. They serve their territory with fiber, copper, and some fixed LTE. He shows some pictures of his tree-laden area.
  • 03:39 – Interconnecting schools and other anchor institutions outside their traditional cooperative territory has given them a fiber backbone as a basis for their expansion. Cano expresses that cooperatives are fundamentally about people helping each other.
  • 05:35 – Cano’s journey is the quintessential American success story. With a humble start on farms in North Texas, Cano gained an appreciation for the hard work demanded by agriculture. It also spurred him to complete an Electrical Engineering degree at Texas Tech. He launched his career at an engineering firm, Hicks and Ragland (which became CHR), which gave him broad exposure to the industry. He attributes much of his personal success and the success of the cooperative to the many relationships he made while at Hicks and Ragland.
  • 08:46 – Cano defines the term “digital disadvantaged”, which he describes as more of a positive term than the common term, “digital divide”. He points out that there are many reasons why children are able to take advantage of broadband and, the availability of broadband, is just part of the story (see this author’s post for the issues he sees in Silicon Valley).
  • 11:40 – Cano explains the “summer slide” and how the conversation with the schools on this issue started many years ago. What came out of these conversations is a program with credits for teachers and parents. Customers and teachers would receive a credit of $34 off their broadband bill for participating in the program. He calls the teachers, “the real heroes.”
  • 15:39 – The schools provided the tablets or laptops, along with the curriculum. The teachers were advisors and would occasionally meet with the students. Ultimately, this approach puts the onus on the parents to prioritize education.
  • 17:24 – The barrier to expanding the program is the funding of the Texas Universal Service Fund, states Cano. He stresses that the Texas Public Utility Service Fund needs to modernize its funding mechanism to account for broadband. With seven homes per mile, fiber is the ultimate solution instead of patching their copper network.
  • 21:20 – Their summer slide program prepared Etex and its partners for the shutdown. Although Cano says it has room for improvement, he thinks it is a model that other cooperatives and, even, the state of Texas could emulate. The most important thing element to the program is trust. Trust only happens through relationships; relationships that happen because Etex’s staff is part of the community.
  • 26:31 – Cano talks about Etex’s intern program and how this year led to a video helping them tell their education story.
  • 29:30 – Cano provides background on how his formula for success became memorialized in a book, A Patriot’s Guide to Success. Charlie then explains his formula.
  • 35:00 – Cano explains that it is easy to overlook the smaller operators and he feels it important for regulators and legislators to “hear the rest of the story,” as Paul Harvey might say.