Unique Challenges in the Cooperative’s Service Area
Among Eastex’s residential member-customers, close to 10% are Lifeline beneficiaries. This is reflective of the fact that in ten of the eleven counties served the median household income level is lower than the national average. In many instances, the median income is 30% less than the national average, or approximately $35,000 per year for a household. Similarly, in 9 of the 11 counties served, the percentage of persons below the poverty level is higher than the national average. In some cases, the poverty percentage is over 10% higher than the national average.
In addition to the demographics for Eastex’s serving territory, the Cooperative serves an expansive area of east Texas that is rich with climate and geographic challenges. As determined by the Texas Department of Transportation, Eastex is located in a Hurricane Evacuation Zone, as portions of its service area are prone to high winds and hurricane activity. In fact, the Cooperative suffered damage in 2005 as a result of Hurricane Rita, and again, in 2008, suffered damage from Hurricane Ike.
Eastex’s service area covers portions of the four national forests located in Texas, including Sam Houston, Angelina, Davy Crockett and Sabine. Serving areas with dense forest brings a distinctive set of challenges. In the national forest areas, special use permits must be sought and precautionary measures followed to ensure that forest areas are preserved and protected. Before the Cooperative may bury any cable or fiber, for example, rights of way must be granted by the United States Department of Agriculture’s Forest Service. Often, environmental assessments must be performed before approval is granted, creating additional expenses for the Cooperative.
Eastex also serves areas replete with lakes, rivers and streams. In fact, the Cooperative’s service area houses a portion of the largest man-made body of water in Texas, the Toledo Bend Reservoir, which has an area of 185,0000 acres. Eastex’s area also includes Lake Livingston, an 83,000 acre lake with a shore length of over 450 miles. Due to limited access across these lakes, as well as the numerous rivers and streams, Eastex expends additional resources to lay facilities around these bodies of water.
Eastex also has the unique challenge of providing service to five non-contiguous areas which are separated by hundreds of miles. Often, transport facilities necessary to connect these areas, and to provide the FCC mandated broadband services are expensive, not available, or inadequate. Eastex continues to seek and find solutions to meet this challenge.