TEXAS, USA — County commissioners approved allocating $25 million from ARPA FUNDS to expand broadband internet access. The plan is to provide fast, reliable and affordable internet to areas that can’t access it.
The caretaker of the Elmendorf Community Library says people come in daily to access the internet or use the equipment inside. Elmendorf is not the only area struggling with the digital divide in Bexar County and San Antonio.
Darlene Hicks, library caretaker and president of the Elmendorf Community Library Foundation is a lifelong resident of the area. With the help of community donations, she opened the library in 2015 to provide a missing service.
“I grew up here since 1962 and knew this area did not have this for the kids or adults, and that’s why I opened the building,” Hicks said.
The building which houses some of the town’s history in a small museum also helps people solve their modern-day problems.
“We still have those dead spots in this area and that’s why we’re a service here because there are areas. Even though that person may have the money and want to get it, they can’t,” Hicks said.
The problem is widespread—according to Marina Alderete Gavito of SA Digital Connects.
“Today, 20% percent of residents in San Antonio and Bexar County have barriers accessing the internet. So that’s 20% of people who can’t easily work from home, who cannot do school at home,” Alderete Gavito said.
County commissioners approved an allocation of $25 million from the American Rescue Plan Act to provide broadband internet in remote areas of Bexar County. The digital divide affects areas both inside and outside of the San Antonio city limits.
Alderete Gavito says there is a request for a proposal out to see which internet service providers either have plans to build broadband infrastructure in these areas, currently have infrastructure in place, or want to partner with the county and the city to deploy the infrastructure.
The areas in red highlighted in this map are the areas prioritized with the most need that don’t have any infrastructure.
“That’s our proposal; it’s a foundation and we can work with commissioners to customize that as needed and really start getting some deals done to connect those households,” Alderete Gavito said.
The group also hopes those funds can be dedicated to educating people on digital literacy.
It’s a service that Hicks does her best to provide to people using the library’s services.
“We have people who come here who to fill out job applications, download them, ask for help on how to fill out forms through the Internet, and they don’t have it”
Internet service providers have until October 6 to submit their RFP.
SA Digital Connects estimates there’s 5,422 households in those areas that are disconnected due to a lack of infrastructure.