Bexar County Invests $25 Million to Expand Broadband Internet Access
San Antonio – The City of San Antonio and Bexar County hope to bridge the digital divide by investing $32 million to bring more high-speed internet to underserved areas.
Bexar County commissioners voted unanimously Tuesday to budget $25 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds for expanded internet access, and the city of San Antonio already has nearly $7 million earmarked for the same goal.
The city and county issued an open tender to internet service providers for their plans to provide broadband access in 37 underserved census tracts on the south, east and west sides of the county and city.
The digital divide in the San Antonio area — the difference in high-speed internet options depending on where you live — has been highlighted during the pandemic. Working from home and distance learning was more difficult for families who had either poor internet access or no internet access, either due to availability or affordability.
SA Digital Connects, a public-private partnership focused on bridging that gap, hopes county money can be tapped to bring in more investment in expanding high-speed internet infrastructure.
“What we’re seeing is that ISPs, with other cities and counties, are doing a dollar-for-dollar match. You know, so if the city or county puts in $5 million, they can put in $5 million. And then, all of a sudden, you can start working on connecting households with a budget of $10 million,” said Marina Anderete Gavito, executive director of SA Digital Connects.
The benchmark used by the city and county is a download speed of 100 Mbps and an upload speed of 20 Mbps. The city’s request for proposals on “digital connectivity in underserved community areas,” in which the county has a stake, also asks ISPs if they would be willing to offer contracts in all 37 census tracts for $30. per month.
“The call for tenders is therefore about the affordability and quality of the infrastructure. While ISPs are paid to grow this way, we want to make sure their offering is affordable for residents. So it’s that $30 mark,” said city chief innovation officer Brian Dillard.
That price would mean that users who qualify for the federal Affordable Connectivity Program, which provides up to $30 a month subsidy for internet service, could effectively get their service for free.
The city and county’s combined $37 million is only part of the roughly $500 million or more that SA Digital Connects estimates is needed to bridge the county’s digital divide, but Anderete Gavito says “it’s a meaningful start.
There are plenty of state and federal funds dedicated to broadband expansion that they will pursue as well, she said.
“But we have to start now because many of these federal and state funding opportunities won’t be available until later,” she told the commissioners.
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