GATESVILLE — Those of us who live and work in rural Coryell County know the challenge of finding a reliable Internet connection.

The work of uploading and downloading out here used to involve hay bales, a barn and a flatbed truck. Now we are talking megabits, bandwidth and FTP servers.

If you have been tussling with your broadband connection since the days of dial-up, help may be on the way.

Connected Texas, a nonprofit subsidiary of Connected Nation, is a public and private initiative aimed at helping expand broadband access to under-served areas of the state.

The outfit is commissioned by the Texas Department of Agriculture to work with broadband providers to create online maps pinpointing gaps in availability. Connected Texas then partners with public and private groups and agencies to promote adoption, access and use of broadband in the state.

Connected Texas Executive Director Don Shirley, community technology adviser Libbey Scheible, and TDA field representative Michelle Spodnik met with the Coryell County Economic Development Board this week to introduce their program and recruit a local “champion” to coordinate a free assessment of the county’s broadband needs.

Expanding Internet access could create jobs, Shirley said, through Digital Works, a job skills training and placement project.

People with a telephone and an Internet connection could qualify for jobs starting at $12 an hour under the program.

Jack Barcroft, who uses the Internet to earn a living, took the initiative to connect Connected Texas with the economic development board.

Barcroft, who is a sales rep for web-based WorkMarket and the chairman of the Coryell County Republican Party, said his interest in expanding broadband is not connected with his profession or his politics.

Barcroft contacted EDB member Fred Chavez about putting Connected Texas on the board’s agenda, which he did.

The Connected Texas delegation, along with Barcroft, County Judge John Firth and County Commissioner Jack Wall, met with a somewhat dysfunctional EDB.

Chavez was absent from the meeting for medical reasons. Board Chairman Dick Van Dyke admitted to being “confused” about when and how the presentation fit on the agenda.

The board members present at the start of the meeting, Mary Beth Harrell, Barbara Burrow and Eric Keitzer, were not briefed on the presentation beforehand. Keitzer left before the presentation started and Burrow left before it ended, so at the end of the presentation, the board lacked a quorum to take any action.

The EDB was temporarily disconnected from Connected Texas.

After the meeting, Harrell said she, Chavez and Barcroft conferred with Schieble via email and reconnected the EDB by offering to be the project’s “champions.”

Firth said he would present the Connected Texas proposal to the county commissioners’ court Tuesday.

Contact Tim Orwig at

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