Broadband & Digital Equity

Harris County Building Private LTE Network to Reach Rural Families

The Texas county that houses Houston will be rolling out a private LTE network using Citizens Broadband Radio Service (CBRS) spectrum. The major beneficiary for the initial phase will be families with students that lack high-speed internet access. The project is being funded with CARES Act money.

Harris County, the third most populous county in the country, chose Motorola Solutions' Nitro to connect families in rural areas. The deployment will start with five sites delivering connectivity to about 1,000 households. The project planners hope to set up an additional 26 fixed and mobile sites by the end of the year, with the capacity to support more than 6,000 households. According to Broadband USA, nearly 14% of households in the county — an estimated 640,000 people — lack access.

The project also involves giving CBRS modems to people whose homes are covered by the network, which will enable those families to have in-home WiFi. Those are being made available free and anonymously through local libraries.

Harris County is also expecting to provide free SIM cards for CBRS-capable devices, such as smartphones.

"The pandemic and resulting need for remote and hybrid learning models highlighted the inequities that exist within our communities when it comes to reliable internet access," said Dominic Tong, executive director of technology infrastructure and engineering at Aldine Independent School District, in a statement. "However, these inequities existed long before. All of our students need at-home internet for research, homework and college applications, and we're grateful for the county's investment in private broadband, which will provide our students with the connectivity needed to support academic success."

As the work unfolds, the county will reach out to additional community organizations, to communicate the availability and benefit of the network to all residents who lack regular access to internet. That includes setting up a "digital taskforce" to connect specifically with senior citizens and others, who may want to use the internet for online doctor visits, banking, community services and job opportunities.

Beyond that, planners are envisioning a time when the network backhaul will also support improvements in the county's service and public safety operations.

"Our initial focus has been on connecting students and families, but we also have an eye to what will be possible in the future with a foundation of strong, private broadband supporting our county operations," said Jim McMillan, senior director of public safety technology for the county. "The backhaul that Motorola Solutions is providing will allow us to capture and harness data from meters, sensors and cameras across the city to improve the delivery of county services and inform the work of our public safety agencies."

About the Author

Dian Schaffhauser is a former senior contributing editor for 1105 Media's education publications THE Journal, Campus Technology and Spaces4Learning.