LUBBOCK, Texas — Post, Tahoka, Lamesa and Brownfield, these are the towns whose broadband internet is largely provided by the local telecommunications company, Poka Lambro. They’re also the inspiration for the company’s name. According to Poka Lambro CEO, Patrick Sherrill, the business started as something else, serving surrounding counties like Terry, Yoakum and others with telephone service beginning in 1950.
“It was a result of policy taxes and the federal government had a policy [saying], ‘Let’s get networks out to everybody. Let’s make sure that all locations have access to telephones,’ which was a modern telecommunications network in 1950,” said Sherrill. “So policy created programs where a bunch of cooperatives were formed.”
Now, Poka Lambro works to get broadband internet to farmers, ranchers and other agriculture producers who keep West Texas going. But, Sherrill said that crucial task is easier said than done.
“The rural area, you got low density and so that means you’ve got to build a lot of cable before you have a customer, a lot of investment,” said Sherrill.
Unlike with telephones, there wasn’t a policy in place to include rural communities when the internet took off, and according to Sherrill and others in the industry, they were left behind.
“For 70 years, policy has been [to] get communications networks to everybody,” Sherrill said. “Those roles have all been focused on phones. We haven’t really made the transition over to broadband yet.”
Because of the Covid-19 pandemic forcing the world to go virtual, internet accessibility was forced to catch up too.
“There’s Prop eight that gives us some funding to go ahead and accelerate some broadband deployment, and then we’ve got the BEAD Program that’ll be coming out next year that will fund infrastructure,” said Sherrill. “It’s through the federal agency, but that is administered in the state by the Texas Broadband Development Office.”
Those two programs offer about $4.8 billion in historic funding to the state to build broadband infrastructure, like laying fiber cables and things of that nature. On the other hand, when it comes to policy to keep up with service, Sherill said he has his suspicions.
“Will we support the ongoing operation of that network and will we hold the provider accountable to continue to serve that rural area or that low-income area with the same quality that you’re serving, the high-density, high-income area?” asked Sherrill. “ If we don’t do that, we’ll get five years down the road and we’ll have this problem repeated again, and so we want to avoid that.”
Proposition eight Sherrill mentioned is on the ballot right now. Registered voters in Texas can vote on the proposition through November 4 for early voting, or on Election Day, which is November 7.