Network Moments: Facebook and LEARN bring high-speed internet to West Texas

Texas libraries get faster internet to help residents stay connected
By Boh DuPreeMichele Kohler
July 22, 2021

Like many communities in the United States, West Texas is underserved by high-speed internet infrastructure, leaving many of its residents struggling to find fast, reliable access. “Access to high speed Internet has become a major issue in our part of the country,” says Texas State Representative John Smithee. “This problem has really been highlighted more than we ever realized in the last year because of the pandemic, particularly in very rural areas.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has shown us all how important connectivity can be, and this need is amplified in rural regions without access to reliable, high speed internet. Internet speeds affect everything from the video chats people use to stay connected, to how online students stay on track at school. Along with the Lonestar Education and Research Network (LEARN), we’re proud to be helping improve connectivity for the people of West Texas.

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As part of our larger effort to connect the underconnected and close the digital divide, Facebook is partnering with LEARN, a nonprofit that connects research, education, health care, and public service institutions in Texas, to help connect thousands of West Texas residents. We’re doing this by providing access to three libraries located near our builds with newly constructed fiber that connects our Los Lunas, New Mexico, and Fort Worth, Texas, data centers. This new fiber access allows us to deliver services to enable connectivity that is 10-100x higher speed for the three designated libraries (Muleshoe Area Public Library, Cochran County Love Memorial Library in Morton, and Friona Public Library).

Serving the billions of people around the world who use Facebook services requires scalable network connectivity between data centers to provide an efficient and reliable experience. In North America, this means developing new long-haul fiber routes that can be used to connect our data centers and support rural communities that could benefit from additional bandwidth. The excess capacity from the infrastructure we built to connect our data centers allows us to enable local partners like LEARN to make these much-needed services available to local libraries. It makes broadband more widely available and provides communities with economic and quality-of-life benefits.

The local communities are now able to visit the library and access high-speed internet to continue their education, conduct business, and even access health care. During the pandemic, as schools and businesses closed, this need multiplied, so local libraries became a lifeline for the towns they support. It’s also a lifeline for people like Mary Escamilla, who’s raising three grandchildren in Morton, Texas (a town with a population of fewer than 2,000 people), and has no internet connection. When her grandchildren need to do their homework, they head to the library to use the internet. 

“Being at home during the pandemic has been very hard on me because I share the internet with three other people in my house,” says Arthur Recio, a college student in Muleshoe, Texas. “So when I come to the library for my online college courses, I bring my laptop and use it to finish quizzes, labs, and to print off study material. It’s like my second home.” 

Our Network Moments series highlights the impact of the projects we partner on to enable local businesses to bring reliable internet access to as many people as possible and help close the digital divide.