Planning Around SA's Broadband Blues




This map created by Open Technology Institute at the New America Foundation shows broadband access disparities in San Antonio.

Is efficient access to the internet a luxury or a utility?

District 8 Councilman Ron Nirenberg argues it’s a necessary utility for workforce and economic development; and the City of San Antonio needs a comprehensive strategy on how to accelerate deployment of information technology and infrastructure.

On Wednesday, during a Governance Committee meeting, committee members will consider a request from Nirenberg to direct staff to assemble and publish a comprehensive-broadband plan. But before that can happen, the committee needs to agree to bring an item directing staff to begin working on a broadband plan to the committee.

Essentially, the committee will debate whether to debate—unless of course, there's agreement on Nirenberg's request.

So if it makes it onto the agenda and the committee approves the idea, staff would “assemble and publish a comprehensive, unified digital communication strategy that will enable acceleration of equitable deployment of information technology infrastructure and service, including broadband and mobile data, throughout the city.”

More specifically, the plan would:

  • Modify City policy to help private service providers build infrastructure and provide high-speed broadband access equity, particularly in historically underserved areas;
  • Examine zoning, development and land use policies that affect the private sector’s ability to provide sufficient citywide broadband and mobile data service;
  • Provide context for role and management of a municipally operated fiber network within a citywide broadband strategy; and
  • Prioritize state and federal legislation that would help San Antonio deploy universal broadband and mobile access, but retain local authority over land use policy and revenue.

Earlier this year, Google announced that San Antonio was on its short list for Google Fiber, a high-speed fiber-optic network that would dramatically increase broadband access across the Alamo City.

However, as the Current reported in June, broadband disparity is prevalent in San Antonio. According to a map created by the Open Technology Institute at the New America Foundation, broadband rates directly correlate with income. And broadband adoption in the urban core and northern suburbs is at a dramatically higher rate than it is in the Alamo City’s low income and minority communities.

And according to Nirenberg’s plan for a plan, the Federal Communications Commission has already launched initiatives to expand and strengthen broadband and mobile data infrastructure nationwide, which include reimbursements to municipalities for investment in communication networks and technology.

“The FCC has also published proposed new rules that would accelerate deployment of broadband, mobile, and wireless infrastructure by the private sector while reducing the ability of local governments to enforce its own land use regulations,” Nirenberg’s council consideration request states.

San Antonio has already adopted several policies focusing on workforce development in order to compete in a global economy, according to Nirenberg, who wrote in his request that “those investments are made on the premise that expanding opportunity will lead to a more resilient economy. The same holds true for providing access to information technology in all areas of the city.”

In the meantime, internet users who don’t have speedy access like users in the urban core and northern suburbs, hopefully, won’t have to stare at a white screen for too long while waiting for their browsers to load while council members debate whether they are going to debate on a comprehensive broadband strategy that could help improve those service disparities.

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