Palestine resident, single mother of two, and recent college graduate Brandy Lovelady needs the internet for her children's schoolwork, as well as for her own. Lovelady has applied to a master's degree program, but worries that slow, unreliable Internet service will put her behind academically.

For now, Lovelady uses free wi-fi at spots like McDonald's and the library. With two school-aged children, however, meeting the family's Internet needs is tough.

“I've unplugged my desktop,” she said. “I have to come to town to do any schoolwork. We can't even stream a movie with our Internet. All tests and paper submissions have to be done in town.”

A recent federal survey found 7 out of 10 educators nationwide assign homework that requires Internet research. A full one-third of students, however, have no access to broadband Internet. The problem is especially acute in rural areas like Anderson County.

The good news is Anderson County residents enduring slow Internet service – or none at all – might be surfing the Internet by the end of the year, thanks to an application filed by Palestine officials.

Connected Nation Texas accepts applications each year from low-income and rural areas typically under-serviced by broadband Internet. The company aims to make broadband Internet available to all.

Connected Nation is coming to Palestine next month to perform a broadband mapping and data analysis to determine ways to improve and expand broadband services in Anderson County.

Residents who want the service should attend a March 12 meeting led by Connected Nation in City Council chambers. The Texas arm of the Kentucky-based non-profit company requires at least 35 attendees before they will commit to working with a community.

If the required number of residents don't show, Anderson County will drop from this round of broadband mapping. The county would need to start over with the application process, which can take more than a year.

Palestine Independent School District spokesperson Larissa Loveless told the Herald-Press Thursday the city and county desperately need wider, more available broadband connections.

“The school district plans programs and has to work around it [the lack of internet],” she said. “The district has had to provide stop-gap measures, including wireless hotspots on some of their school buses, and planning lessons around the limited resources some students might have at home.

“We call Palestine a city, but it's a rural area, too,” Loveless said. “We don't realize what true high-speed internet is, like that enjoyed in more urban areas.”

Connected Nation depends on relationships it has built with numerous internet service providers over the past 20 years to develop plans to improve the connectivity of an area. They also encourage partnerships between Internet service providers and communities.

Palestine City Manager Leslie Cloer said a broadband mapping and data analysis will also make the city and county eligible to apply for future grants to help bring better broadband services to the area.

In addition to residents, Cloer has invited local business owners, broadband service providers, education providers, and board and commission members to the March meeting with Connected Nation representatives.

“If you are unable to join us, please select a staff representative from your business or school to attend on your behalf,” she said.

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