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Governments Work to Get San Antonio, Texas-Area Residents Online

Public-private endeavors involving the city and Bexar County aim to help roughly 35,000 homes get connected. Two pacts with Internet providers would extend infrastructure before Affordable Connectivity Program funding ends.

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(TNS) — Efforts to ensure that San Antonio-area residents have reliable Internet access are making progress, but much work remains before a federal Internet subsidy for thousands of residents expires.

Separate public-private initiatives involving the city and Bexar County to help about 35,000 homes get connected are underway, according to the latest update from SA Digital Connects, a city-county partnership that was created in 2020 when the COVID-19 pandemic laid bare the reality that more than 130,000 households in the area lacked broadband access.

"We leveraged over $66 million to provide (Internet) access to over 35,000 households by the end of 2026," said Rhia Pape, executive director of SA Digital Connects, who's led the partnership since October. "We have been supporting those projects along the way."

Two contracts — one between the city and AT&T and one between Bexar County and Spectrum — call for installing broadband infrastructure in parts of the city and county that aren't yet connected.

The city and AT&T contributed $8.8 million and $24.7 million, respectively, to help 20,000 customers in the next two years. According to SA Digital Connects' March update, 661 locations have been connected so far and an additional 4,240 are under construction.

Similarly, Bexar County and Spectrum committed $11.8 million and roughly $30.8 million, respectively, to connect more than 10,500 households in unincorporated areas and suburban cities.

"They have not started putting shovels in the ground yet," Pape said of the county project. "But they are on their way to doing that very soon."


According to Pape, infrastructure is only one part of getting people online. She thinks about three As: access, adoption and affordability.

Infrastructure provides access, but people often need a device to connect, and they need to be able to pay for the service.

Adoption, she said, involves helping community members obtain "access to the devices that are relevant to their needs" and ensuring that they have "the digital skills ... to use those devices."

For instance, job applications, research and schoolwork, such as writing papers, can be difficult on smartphones. A better device for such tasks might be a tablet or laptop.

SA Digital Connects works with 200 local organizations to help people get online.

On Thursday, the agency got a new partner when Compudopt, a national nonprofit working to close the digital divide, in collaboration with Methodist Healthcare Ministries, launched in San Antonio at an event at the Frost Bank Center, where it gave free laptop computers to 300 families.

Compudopt plans to hand out 5,000 devices, connect 2,500 households to free or low-cost Internet, provide digital skill training to more than 18,000 and provide "workforce-aligned technology education programs" to more than 300 local youth.

"Investment in digital inclusion, investment in broadband Internet and supporting folks in ensuring that they can afford and they have devices and that they're comfortable using those devices, they've got computer skills training — those things have long-term impacts, especially in the area of economic development," Pape said. "When you start talking about the workforce and career pathways, it's a digital world."


While such local efforts ramp up, a federal program to help offset Internet costs for low-income families is going away.

The Federal Communications Commission's Affordable Connectivity Program, which has helped 23 million households across the country stay connected, is winding down as its funding runs out.

"It's heartbreaking to see something that has been so effective, potentially, just disappear right out from underneath us," Pape said. "In Bexar County, we have over 160,000 households that are registered and utilizing the program."

And more people are likely eligible but haven't signed up, she said.

With the Affordable Connectivity Program's funding nearly depleted and no new deal from Congress in sight, this is the last month that people enrolled will receive the full $30 monthly stipend than enabled many to get Internet service for free.

"AT&T, Spectrum and Google Fiber ... were all providing a $30 option," Pape said. "With that subsidy, they were paying zero dollars for Internet, so if that goes away, we could potentially see a significant number of households no longer have service."

A $7 billion stopgap measure to fund the program through the end of the year was introduced in Congress in January.

"Internet is not a luxury. It's a necessity," Pape said. "When we talk about investment in digital inclusion, we're really talking about economic mobility and supporting growth in our cities."

©2024 the San Antonio Express-News, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.