San Antonio to expand internet access in underserved areas
Thousands of families without high-speed internet access in San Antonio are one step closer to getting connected.
Driving the news: The City Council on Thursday approved a deal with AT&T to expand broadband access to 20,200 households.
Why it matters: Around 130,000 households across Bexar County lack adequate internet access, per a 2021 digital inclusion study from SA Digital Connects. People affected struggle to work from home, hold a telemedicine appointment or even stream television.
- Many of the households facing barriers are on the South, East and West sides, where other disparities persist.
Details: The expansion will cost about $22.2 million, per city documents. AT&T will cover $13.3 million, with the city chipping in $8.9 million.
- It could take about three years to get the internet to homes.
The big picture: Private internet providers don't cover certain areas because it isn't as profitable, Marcie Trevino Ripper, policy and data consultant for SA Digital Connects, says.
- "Servicing an area that has maybe a smaller population — the return on investment might not be there for the business," Trevino Ripper tells Axios. "So we need to then subsidize to provide access to those households."
Zoom in: SA Digital Connects launched in 2020 when the pandemic deepened understanding that not everyone could work or attend school from home. The nonprofit has since worked with city and county officials, advocating the use of federal COVID-19 relief funds for broadband access.
- The first step is to build out physical infrastructure to provide service, which the city's new contract addresses, Trevino Ripper says.
- Second is ensuring people have devices at home. Lastly, the group wants to educate people with the skills needed to navigate an increasingly online world.
What they're saying: Better digital connectivity means more access to jobs, education and health services, Trevino Ripper says. "At the end of the day, we end up with a healthier community," she tells Axios.
- "To have true equity in our city, all residents need access to the internet," Mayor Ron Nirenberg said in a statement.
By the numbers: The West Side faces a large challenge to connect — 17,000 households in City Council District 5 don't have internet, per SA Digital Connects. Another 8,000 households there have limited broadband availability.
- It would cost about $500 million to fully close the digital divide in Bexar County, SA Digital Connects estimates. To reach that milestone, the organization is looking for funds at the city, county, state and federal levels.
What's next: Bexar County officials are negotiating a contract with Spectrum to expand internet in unincorporated parts of the county. The Commissioners Court could take a vote in the coming month or so, a county spokesperson tells Axios.
- SA Digital Connects wants to have laid the groundwork by 2026 for all 130,000 households to be on their way to getting connected.
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