The digital divide is a gap between those who have access to digital technology and those who do not and it has been a problem in and around San Antonio.
There are programs and organizations working to address the problem and help the future of our community, an one of those organizations is SA Digital Connects.
SA Digital Connects is a private-public partnership that aims to close the digital divide for local families in need, and their executive director joined Leading SA on Sunday to discuss the problem, some solutions and what comes next.
“Today, 20 percent of residents in San Antonio, in our county faced barriers to accessing the internet. And that could be for a couple of reasons. First off, maybe they don’t have access to infrastructure. You know, if they’re kind of in the unincorporated areas of Bear County, even if they wanted to connect to fiber infrastructure, they can’t. A second really big problem is affordability,” Marina Gavito said. “Lastly is digital literacy. So, you know, maybe they can connect and maybe they can afford it, but they don’t know, you know, how to start a computer. They don’t know how to set up an email address or access city resources. And so, you know, as Digital Connect is focusing on all those three legs of the stool and making sure that people get connected to the internet.”
SA Digital Connects is working to get the community online.
“We created a public sector, a private sector and a community collaboration. And all together we built our communities digital equity plan. With that digital equity plan tells us is where the digital divide is in San Antonio. We kind of quantified it for us, how it impacts different demographics, how it impacts older adults, how it impacts veterans, how it impacts students. And so now that we had created that plan as a digital connect is focused on implementing the plan, and you all may have heard about the infrastructure bill, and there’s going to be a lot of federal funding going to the states, and then we’ll draw it down to the cities and counties that is focused on broadband expansion. And so we’re really making sure that San Antonio and Bear County get our fair share of that funding,” Gavito said.
In terms of combatting the lack affordability aspect of the digital divide, there are public mechanisms in place.
“One of the other things that we’re tracking is the Affordable Connectivity Program. Right now, the FCC has the it’s called Affordable Connectivity Program, ACP, and it’s basically a $30 subsidy off of people’s internet bill every single month. And most of the bigger internet service providers like AT&T Spectrum, Google Fiber, offer a $30 a month plan. So essentially when people sign up for this benefit, they could be getting internet for free every single month. And so we get reports on how many people in San Antonio County have signed up for it. We’re working very closely with the service providers to provide fiber infrastructure on those households that don’t. And so, you know, we’re just one step at a time in making sure everyone’s connected,” Gavito said.
There are short term wins and long-term goals with the solutions that are in motion.
“People need the Internet, right, to apply for job opportunities. Students need it for school. Older adults need it for to feel connected to their family and friends. People need it for rental and utility assistance or to find housing. People needed to apply for jobs online. So these are all the basic ways that we can use internet. So there are so many, so many short term wins for residents in our city and county long term. I mean, this is a huge economic development generator, right? Businesses are going to want to come here when they know we have a fully connected city and a county and county. You know, obviously, we’re going to have a bigger workforce here in our city and county as well. So there are a lot of great short term ones, but also long term, it benefits all of us,” Gavito said.