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San Antonio working to close the digital divide

A pilot program is being launched within the Southwest ISD by the City and Southwest Research Institute.

SAN ANTONIO — School kids need access to the internet, especially during the coronavirus pandemic where online learning is becoming more frequent.

The Southwest Research Institute was awarded at $900,000 contract to implement a private LTE network that Southwest ISD students only can access as a pilot program. If all goes well, other districts around Bexar County could see the same.

"In order to provide our families with a high-quality education through their own environment we need to be able to provide digital resources and access. We have been fortunate to have the capability of doing that," Janice Hernandez, the Director of Communications with the Southwest ISD told us.

And the Southwest ISD has already been working on it, Hernandez said. 

"Right now we have about 2,000 families that have needed hot spots so we have been able to provide that to those families."

The disparity in online access is referred to as the homework gap. A Pew Research study in 2015 showed 35 percent of lower income households with school age kids in the U.S. did not have internet access. 

A more recent UTSA study showed 21 percent of Bexar County households lack personal computers, with one out of every five students unable to complete homework due to limited internet access. But, hotspots can only go so far. You need infrastructure, experts say.

"We have this area down in the southwest that is plagued by a lack of infrastructure as well as some economically disadvantaged families," Laura Cole, the Director of BiblioTech within San Antonio said. 

But, BiblioTech within the San Antonio city is only a short-term fix, according to Cole. 

"Long-term, that's not really going to help. We need to be looking at bigger solutions and I think this particular project with a private LTE network is a wonderful start," Cole added.

They hope to have the project completed by the end of this calendar year.