Last month, your Chamber was proud to support SA Digital Connects in its release of the “San Antonio and Greater Bexar County Community Digital Equity Plan and Roadmap.” A broad coalition of public, private, and community partners came together and invested in the development of this plan with the goal of protecting our continued development as well as effective and timely recovery from the pandemic by bringing broadband access to every corner of our community.
The coalition put together a set of recommended action steps to effectively use local, state, and federal funding that is available now and in the coming months. To address the digital divide for our community and make our region a leader the plan aims to address:
- Availability – reliable access to the internet at speeds of 100/100 Mbps with a committed information rate (CIR) guaranteeing service levels.
- Affordability – internet options with adequate service quality at an annual cost of no more than 1% of household income.
- Adoption Support – ability to comfortably access the internet and the motivation to do so (e.g., digital literacy, language resources, trust).
- Device Access – connected devices that meet technical requirements for foundational applications in education, health, workforce training, etc.
The group estimates an investment of approximately $600 million over the next 3 years and $90 million annually thereafter is needed to close the digital divide. Funds would cover the costs to expand infrastructure access, deploy middle-mile fiber, and run reverse auctions to enable residential with necessary service speeds and support the maintenance of the networks over time. It would also support the expansion of broadband access in affordable housing campuses through public Wi-Fi offerings or bulk procurement contracts.
Additionally, they will strive to support education entities to expand sponsored programs to cover connectivity costs for their students. To ensure universal device access they believe the need is $30 million over the next 3 years and $4 million annually thereafter. This will help to establish grants for philanthropies to refurbish and distribute devices, create and expand device donation programs through private sector/philanthropy, and cover repair and maintenance of devices on an ongoing basis. This can also support the expansion of 1:1 device programs for schools and universities.
To develop community-wide digital literacy, the group suggests $45 million over the next 3 years and $6 million annually thereafter. These funds would support adoption campaigns to enroll households in available programs, set up and expand digital literacy programs through trusted community organizations, and continue to support and expand digital literacy and skilling programs offered across organizations.
Making the plan a reality will require substantial cross-stakeholder support and engagement. Policymakers can prioritize and unlock sustainable funding for digital equity through enabling regulation and policy and utilizing federal relief funds and the recent development of the State Broadband Office.
The Chamber calls on others in the private sector to champion the need for digital investment, support digital applications across sectors, and help educate others in how digital equity will help us grow our businesses and community. Community organizations can elevate the needs of the community and serve as key points of contact to drive adoption and support digital skills. They can build trust with families around our digital initiatives and create feedback loops to ensure programs reflect the needs of the community.
Education entities (K-12, higher education, libraries, workforce) can expand curriculum to support digital skills and certification across populations. They can invest in education platform innovation to build digital content and literacy to support student and community engagement for digital programs.
Your Chamber plans to be involved in this process and can help our member organizations become more engaged. We also will encourage annual reporting of the progress of digital inclusiveness in our community with details on key successes and areas of improvement that are needed. If you are interested in learning more about this plan and how you can help, please contact VP of Education & Workforce Development Katie Ferrier at 210-229-2134 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.