Local officials, community leaders, and businesses in San Antonio are partnering on a groundbreaking community investment in digital equity. An initial step included developing a Digital Equity Plan and Roadmap to help guide decision-making and take advantage of the wide array of funding for local governments and Internet service providers. SA Digital Connects aims to make the City of San Antonio and Greater Bexar County “shovel ready” for upcoming broadband funding opportunities while showcasing the power of community-wide collaboration.
On September 22, 2021, SA Digital Connects hosted a presentation unveiling the community’s Digital Equity Plan and Roadmap. Around 160,000 households have broadband access today but lack speeds of SA Digital Connects’ goal of 100/100 Mbps. The coalition plans on deploying middle-mile infrastructure and running a reverse auction to build infrastructure that supports affordable 100/100 Mbps speeds for 210,000 residents as well as improving device access and digital skills support.
Universal Access and Adoption is the Goal
Unveiling the Digital Equity Plan and Roadmap marks the completion of the first milestone, identifying existing inequities while engaging 12 private-sector partners and 140 community organizations that are working to bridge the digital divide. The Plan and Roadmap aims to address persistent challenges facing Bexar County residents.
SA Digital Connects identifies four main goals for every household in the community:
- Ensure access to speeds of 100/100 Mbps.
- Expand high-quality Internet options priced below 1% of annual household income.
- Promote access to connected devices that meet technical requirements.
- Support digital literacy, language resources, and other adoption programs that enable everyone to access and use the Internet.
Kevin Voelkel, Toyota Texas CEO and Initial Chair of SA Digital Connects’ Board of Directors, describes the plan as “a living and breathing plan designed to evolve as we move into the implementation stage.”
Implementing the Plan
In the words of Brian Diller, Chief Innovation Officer for the City of San Antonio and Vice-Chair of the SA Digital Connects Board of Directors,
The residents of San Antonio and greater Bexar County have requested a plan that addresses the digital divide in an equitable way, and it is time for us to prioritize and designate sustainable funding for digital equity and advocate for policy that will continue to support our efforts.
It is time for the heavy lifting to begin.
Some crucial and immediate next steps include the private sector continuing to champion the need for digital investment, service providers ensuring solutions can be provided affordably and reliably, and the City and County collaborating on the allocation of funding, as well as the implementation of the plan to create innovative channels that explore areas like procurement and opportunities for combined grants for partners to provide devices and literacy.
Each year, SA Digital Connects will provide an annual report on digital inclusiveness in the City and County and identify areas of improvement. Performance metrics will be tracked on a public dashboard, including the percent of households without access and facing adoption and affordability barriers.
SA Digital Connects Continues San Antonio and Bexar County’s Digital Inclusion Legacy.
In 2019, the City conducted a Digital Inclusion Survey and Assessment, which found that 20% of households do not have broadband Internet in the home. Using the information from the study, the City’s Office of Innovation launched the Connected Beyond the Classroom Initiative, which is working to connect the 50 most disconnected neighborhoods in San Antonio with a solar mesh network.
Bexar County is also home to BiblioTech, the nation’s first all-digital public library, which works to bridge literacy and technology gaps in the San Antonio community. At least 80 community organizations across Bexar County already offer a range of digital inclusion services, including device and service access as well as digital skills training.
With an estimated $600 million investment in the first 3 years and then $90 million annually in the years that follow, SA Digital Connects hopes to achieve universal connectivity by 2024. At its core, the initiative is fueled by the understanding that “digital equity and access is foundational to reducing systemic inequities and driving the next generation of societal and economic development.”
SA Digital Connects’ full video presentation is available here.
- Taking a Holistic Approach in San Antonio, Texas (Next Century Cities)
- Next Century Cities Releases Inaugural Yearbook Announcing Change Maker Award Recipients (Next Century Cities)
- Rescue, Recovery, and Rebuild: Local Officials Weigh in on Broadband’s Importance in 2020 (Next Century Cities)
- SA Digital Connects portal
- San Antonio Digital Inclusion Alliance
- Connected Beyond the Classroom (City of San Antonio, Office of Innovation)