Panhandle Connected

The goal of “Panhandle Connected” is to ensure that all students and cities in the Panhandle of Texas have access to sustainable, low-cost, and equitable internet connectivity. Region 16, The City of Amarillo, Amarillo Area Foundation, Connected Nation, local businesses, vested business partners, and nonprofit organizations have been working together in “the Panhandle Spirit” to build what we call “Panhandle Connected.”   We understand that everything works together as an ecosystem.  We need to attract, train, and maintain local talent, but we can’t do this unless there are strong business development and educational opportunities.  Furthermore, business development and education opportunities can’t exist without modern means of connectivity which is why we need to work together for the benefit of all.


Panhandle Connected is now applying for the NTIA BEAD Grant to provide broadband access in all 62 Panhandle communities. We are seeking communities to partner with in the effort to secure funding. Learn more here and contact us to join this once-in-a-generation opportunity!


Digital Equity

 is the condition in which all individuals and communities have the information technology capacity needed for full participation in our society, democracy, and economy. Digital Equity is necessary for civic and cultural participation, employment, lifelong learning, and access to essential services. (National Digital Inclusion Alliance)

By the numbers

As of early 2021, 27% of adults living in households earning less than $30,000 a year are smartphone-only internet users – meaning they own a smartphone but do not have broadband internet at home. This represents a substantial increase from 12% in 2013. [Pew Research Center]

As of February 2022, almost 90% of non-Hispanic whites in Texas have broadband access, compared to 80% of Black Texans and 78% of Hispanic Texans. report from the Texas Comptroller’s Office

One out of every four rural Texans (1.25 million) lacks access to broadband infrastructure (compared to only 2% of urban residents). (Connected Texas)

Just over $5.1 billion in potential economic benefit is left unrealized among disconnected households. (Connected Texas)

One-third of households that do not subscribe to the internet say the cost of service is too expensive. (Connected Texas)


estimated annual economic benefit per household


Increase in revenue for farmers with access to broadband


economic impact of telemedicine on rural communities

Connected Texas

Here in the Panhandle

74 Census Block Groups lack coverage for 90-100% of their residents

That represents the 14,551 most underserved households in the Panhandle

These underserved households are made up of 41,938 people

Source: Operation Connectivity

Amarillo Map of Total Number of Households in Census Blocks with No Internet Coverage (red is 0% coverage and brown is less than 10%)

What can we do?


Work TOGETHER, not separately.

  • The Amarillo Connected Pilot is the leading connectivity pilot today in terms of public/private collaboration, scope of coverage, and affordability of both infrastructure and ongoing service.
  • The Panhandle Connected expansion of this pilot represents a best-in-class model for both the Broadband Development Office and similar regions across Texas.
  • The Panhandle Connected Regional Council has emerged as a leader in leveraging the collaborative development of universally accessible connectivity to drive economic development by facilitating access to accelerated learning, healthcare, and workforce development.

Amarillo Connected: City of Amarillo, Region 16, Impact Broadband, Amarillo College, Amarillo Area Foundation, and Panhandle Regional Planning Commission came together to ensure Amarillo residents have affordable, reliable, high-speed service.

Panhandle Connected: Having one comprehensive plan for the region will help share costs and infrastructure.
Many communities across Texas are proposing broadband projects, but there are very few regions coming together with this level of partnership, giving Panhandle Connected an advantage for grant funding.
Region 16 applied for a state grant to provide “middle mile” funding. Panhandle Connected is now applying for the NTIA Bead Grant to provide broadband access in all Panhandle communities for “last mile” funding. We are seeking communities to partner with in the effort to secure funding.
If you already have broadband projects in your community, keep moving them forward!
Form a working group in your community of people that are committed to the project.

  • Must have a governmental or educational agency involved
  • Establish an interlocal agreement with the City of Amarillo
Define the scope of your community project. We have an RFP template!
Release the RFP and select your winner.
Panhandle Connected will use the selected RFPs from each community to inform the cost analysis for the BEAD grant application and provide the framework to manage grant requirements. This will take the burden off of each community to write and maintain this complicated state grant.
We have access to highly localized data through Ookla Speedtest and Connected Texas. Contact Keralee Clay, Amarillo Area Foundation for more information.
Melissa Ashurst with Impact Broadband is offering support in the working group and RFP process at cost ($11,000/community). If you feel this is a barrier, reach out to any member of the Panhandle Connected team and we will find a way!

Panhandle Connected Team

City of Amarillo

Rich Gagnon

Gagnon is Assistant City Manager and Chief Information Officer leading Information Technology, Amarillo Public Libraries, and the newly formed 3-1-1 and Broadband initiatives.
Rich Gagnon is a highly experienced technologist and executive leader. Prior to filling his role at the city of Amarillo six years ago, Rich lead a worldwide engineering team responsible for over a billion dollars of annual revenue as the Global Vice-President of Systems Engineering for F5 Networks. He also led as the Theater Vice-President of the Americas for Palo Alto Networks and the Director of Global Infrastructure for Gamestop. Rich now applies his experience and proven track record of bringing transformative technical and business initiatives to market in the private sector to his work for the citizens of Amarillo. "It is an honor, a privilege, and a joy to work everyday serving the community we call home,"
Region 16

Michael Keough

Michael is native to the Panhandle of Texas and has served as a technology leader in education institutions for over 14 years. He received a BBA with a minor in Computer Information Systems and later went on to achieve a M.Ed in Technology and Instruction. In two of the Panhandle's larger School Districts (Canyon ISD and Dumas ISD) he planned and coordinated the procurement and implementation of dark fiber connectivity throughout the towns that connected multiple school buildings into a single network. In Canyon ISD, this project consisted of over 130 miles of dark fiber connecting the cities of Amarillo and Canyon in a bi-directional ring. This project not only provided a benefit for the district but also put infrastructure in the ground that fostered business development in the 15-mile space between the two cities as businesses began to move into those areas with the new access to the fiber infrastructure. Michael is passionate about promoting programs that enhance equity, economic development, and the success of the Panhandle of Texas.
Impact Broadband

Melissa Ashurst

Melissa spent over a decade in the telecommunications industry focused on large-scale cellular network deployments for a commercial carrier. Her passion for the industry comes from a deep respect for the ways connectivity impacts people and businesses. While working for her last employer, she felt compelled to draw on her knowledge of Private LTE and cellular networks to explore cutting-edge solutions to solve for the Digital Divide.
Grow Associates, LLC

Gaby Rowe

Gaby Rowe is the Managing Principal and CEO of the consulting firm Grow Associates, LLC, which specializes in developing solutions at the intersection of technology, equitable access to resources and meaningful collaboration between the public and private sectors.

A born and bred New Yorker, Gaby served as a school principal in NYC for 15 years where she was engaged in the development of NYC’s tech eco-system under Mayor Bloomberg and the transformation of local education policy leading to the development of Universal Pre-K. In 2014, she moved to Houston, TX to lead the largest independent school in the state. In 2018, Gaby made the jump to technology development and innovation, as the CEO of Station Houston, Houston’s leading startup accelerator. The following year, she became the founding Executive Director of the Ion, a $100 million innovation hub in Houston spearheaded by Rice University. In that role, Gaby secured the support of Intel, Microsoft, The City of Houston and others for the establishment of the Ion Smart and Resilient Cities Accelerator and helped bring DivInc and Greentown Labs to Houston, securing their permanent homes in the city’s Innovation District.

Since mid-2020 Gaby and Grow Associates have led Governor Abbott’s statewide program, Operation Connectivity. Operation Connectivity is Texas’ initiative to close the digital access and affordability gap for students across the State. Operation Connectivity is responsible for supplying more than 4.5M devices and securing $1B of support for closing the Digital Divide for Texas’ students, for mapping the connectivity needs of students across the state and for supporting the development of nearly a dozen innovative rural broadband pilots designed to bring highspeed connectivity to some the State’s most currently unserved communities.

Amarillo Area Foundation

Keralee Clay

Keralee grew up in Amarillo and is a proud Amarillo High Sandie. She received a BA in Vocal Performance from Arizona State University and lived in NYC for 10 years where she pursued a performing career. During this time, she also maintained a “day job” with her consulting company, Red Clay Consulting, assisting small firms with HR, training, and IT. After the birth of her son, she and her family returned home to Amarillo and she worked as the Director of Ticketing for the Civic Center/Globe-News Center. She joined the Foundation in 2016 as the Director of Operations, became the VP of Operations in 2019, and Senior Vice President in 2021. She oversees HR, IT, Operations, Communication, and Special Projects. In addition, she has an enhanced role supporting promotion of the foundation's mission through community outreach.