News

Infrastructure Committee convenes to bridge the digital divide

Earlier this week, the Chamber’s Infrastructure Committee hosted Jennifer Harris, State Program Director of Connected Nation Texas and an appointed member of the Governor’s Broadband Development Council, and JD Salinas, AVP of External and Legislative Affairs for AT&T, to discuss broadband infrastructure in San Antonio and Bexar County. In the wake of COVID-19, the need for strong broadband infrastructure in homes, schools, and libraries has never been more critical. This growing demand for access to quality broadband infrastructure has indicated that this issue will be at the forefront if the next legislative session.

Harris highlighted the work of the Governor’s Broadband Development Council, which is composed of 17 members, 15 of whom are appointed by the Governor, and charged with:

  • Researching the progress of broadband development in unserved areas.
  • Identifying barriers to residential and commercial broadband.
  • Studying technology-neutral solutions to identified barriers.
  • Analyzing how statewide access to broadband would benefit:
  • Economic development,
  • Delivery of educational opportunities in higher education and public education,
  • State and local law enforcement,
  • State emergency preparedness, and
  • The delivery of health care services, including telemedicine and telehealth.

Harris outlined the key recommendations in the Council’s first report released earlier this month, which include the creation of a state broadband plan and establishing a state broadband office. The Council also believes that developing a state broadband funding program to incentivize deployment in unserved areas could benefit the broadband landscape in Texas and therefore recommends its continued study.

Salinas discussed the different factors that contribute to broadband infrastructure, the specific strengths and areas of focus for improvements, and AT&T’s specific efforts to bridge the digital divide in the San Antonio and Bexar County area. Salinas highlighted that broadband availability for Bexar County is at 99.95%, which is great news for individuals that need these services. Therefore, they have shifted their focus to addressing the top barriers to broadband adoption, which include affordability, technology, and information.

Both Harris and Salinas highlighted three key components of broadband infrastructure: access, adoption, and use: Access as the physical connection to high-speed infrastructure; adoption as recognizing the value in broadband and subscribing either at home, work, and/or via public institutions; and use as having the skills necessary to utilize and leverage broadband are related technologies across sectors.

The Chamber is currently developing its 2021 State Legislative Agenda and already has a placeholder for broadband infrastructure priorities. Count on your Chamber to keep you updated.

For more information, contact Stephanie Reyes, Vice President of Public Policy at sreyes@sachamber.org or by phone at 210-229-2162.

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