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How San Antonio Texas Is Getting Citizens Online: Problem-Solving Plans And Execution 

By Mary Malcolm

In the transition to the online sphere, a deep understanding of digitization is no longer an option as it is quickly becoming a must for all local governments. As local government officials adopt the technology of the times, citizens without digital literacy skills are getting left behind. 

This presents a struggle given the uncertainty of government officials in how to supply their citizens with all the knowledge they need to thrive in our digital world. As government leadership, it is important to remember that many citizen’s face financial difficulties and struggle to afford access to the online services you provide. Only being able to afford low quality internet, or none at all, students and workers from low-income families cannot complete projects or access the necessary online services. This socioeconomic divide creates a wedge of inequality in communities. 

Given these circumstances, it is nearly impossible for a government agency to move entirely online. The ethical conundrum in creating ease of access as operations move to an online forum but consequently abandoning those without the funds to accommodate transitioning times is daunting. Some populations, like in San Antonio, Texas have faced this debacle and have been able to navigate it in such a way that has rendered great success where many municipalities are adopting their methods in hope of a similar favorable outcome. 

Follow along as we detail their methodology and provide insight that may be implemented in your own community. 

The Problem Citizens In San Antonio, Texas Were Facing 

As compared to the rest of the United States living at a 12.5% poverty rate, citizens of San Antonio live in 17.7% poverty. This is a major contributor to their inability to reliably afford quality internet or have access to internet at all. 

As society moves at a fast pace towards an exclusively online presence for major services and operations, those without the internet lack the exposure needed to gain the digital literacy necessary in using the internet. 

COVID-19 surprisingly contributed to this in a major, unforeseen way as online was essentially the only medium to safely engage with one another. During the pandemic, the work force was put at a standstill as people were no longer able to go in person and students were left to continue their education online. These novel circumstances bred innovation as people were seeking adaptations to the foreign waters brought on by COVID-19. 

With services like Teams or Zoom, people were again able to access school and work from their home to anywhere in the world, given that they had the resources to do so, leaving people like those in San Antonio behind yet again. 

Read our guide on How To Improve Municipal Services for Underserved Community Members here. 

Finding The Solution: What The San Antonio Local Government Did 

Officials in San Antonio, Texas got to work as soon as they realized how harsh the divide was of citizens who were not digitally literate. Here are the steps the local leadership took to find a solution to their citizen’s struggle:

  • Local Officials Acquired Funding 

In identifying the root of the issue, money was clearly a cause of concern for communities. Despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, it also brought forth numerous organizations dedicated to the well-being of the people, along with vital relief funds. Included in these funds was the Pandemic Relief Funding where Bexar County was able to allot about $25 million in federal pandemic relief, including money intended for digital inclusion efforts. 

Locally, the city allocated $8.9 million towards addressing the issue, with the county contributing an additional $5.4 million. Moreover, nonprofits like Methodist Healthcare Ministries have pledged an additional $21 million to bridge the gap. Together, these combined efforts aim to make significant strides in closing the digital divide and ensuring equitable access to technology and resources for all.

Read our guide on New Jersey Infrastructure Bill Grants and learn about BEAD Broadband Grants for Rural Communities here! 

  • Officials Researched Partnerships with AT&T and Spectrum 

Local government initiatives focused on providing reliable and affordable internet access to its populace through strategic partnerships with leading providers. Firstly, through a broadband connectivity contract with AT&T, significant progress was made to enhance access across seven council districts. This contract entails AT&T building out fiber connections to link 20,200 residents and businesses over the next three years, thereby expanding the reach of affordable internet services.

Additionally, leveraging funds from the American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA), the county has collaborated with Spectrum, a prominent internet service provider, to address connectivity challenges. Allocating $5.4 million of ARPA funds, Spectrum is tasked with deploying high-speed broadband infrastructure to serve approximately 8,700 households. This investment signifies a proactive approach by local authorities to bridge the digital divide, ensuring that underserved communities gain access to essential online resources and opportunities.

Read our guide to Capital Improvement Planning for Governments!

  • Officials Capitalized on Federal Initiatives 

The FCC's Affordable Broadband Outreach Grants and the Federal Broadband Equity, Access, and Deployment Program are pivotal in ensuring reliable and affordable internet access for San Antonio residents. 

By funding high-speed broadband infrastructure expansion, these programs extend connectivity to underserved areas, granting access to vital online services. Through strategic partnerships, San Antonio effectively utilizes these federal initiatives to bridge the digital divide and promote digital equity.

Learn about Local Government Data-Driven Decision-Making here. 

  • Officials Formulated A Digital Equity Plan

The roadmap for combating the digital divide prioritizes infrastructure development, affordability, and digital literacy. Nonprofit organizations are key partners in this endeavor, tasked with distributing devices to those in need and providing essential training on their use. By addressing these three pillars in tandem and leveraging the expertise of nonprofits, the plan aims to ensure that all residents have equitable access to technology and the skills to fully participate in the digital age.

Read our guide on How To Run an Ethical and Equitable Community here!

How San Antonio, Texas Implemented This Solution 

In these steps, San Antonio implemented solutions in order to get the highest number of their residents online as possible. Check it out: 

Step 1: Gaining Funding

In recognizing this injustice, the local government of San Antonio sprung into action to provide whatever aid and relief they can to their populace. Grants, federal income, and local non-profits were all key players in the acquisition of the money needed to implement new strategies for citizens. With this funding, San Antonio was able to make previously inaccessible resources affordable for all income levels. 

Read our Budgeting Guide for Local Governments to learn more.

Step 2: Partnering with Internet Provides

Representatives at major internet providers such as Spectrum and AT&T generously partnered with San Antonio’s local government to work towards the common goal of accessible, affordable internet access for all. In this deal, qualifying households were offered internet for only 30 dollars per month. 

Step 3: Tackling The Digital Literacy 

People exist at all levels of digital literacy and need different levels of training as they increase their understanding of IT. San Antonio recognized this and began providing outreach to students and workers in the community who needed a better understanding of the internet and how to use it. 

Consider GovPilot’s Local Government Information Technology Software here. 

Outcomes: What San Antonio Achieved 

The findings of the city's latest digital inclusion survey, released in October, revealed a notable improvement in broadband access across San Antonio. The survey, conducted in 2023, indicated a rise in broadband availability from 80% in 2019 to 82% in 2023. The modest yet significant progress reflects the concerted efforts of local government, community organizations, and internet service providers in expanding access to essential online resources and opportunities for residents.

Providing internet access to San Antonio residents enhances community upward mobility by opening doors to education, job opportunities, and essential services. Access to the internet enables social and economic inclusion, allowing residents to connect, access services, and participate in the digital economy. Bridging the digital divide ensures equitable access, investing in the prosperity and resilience of the community.

Charting Your Course: How To Achieve Similar Outcomes As San Antonio 

1. Identify Low-access Internet Areas and Unconnected Neighborhoods 

Identifying low-access internet areas and unconnected neighborhoods is crucial for achieving results similar to those observed in San Antonio. By pinpointing underserved regions, communities can prioritize infrastructure development and targeted interventions to bridge the digital divide. This proactive approach ensures equitable access to technology and empowers residents with the tools needed to pursue educational, economic, and social opportunities, mirroring the positive outcomes seen in San Antonio's efforts.

Learn How Accessible WiFi Drives Success In Local Education here! 

2. Research Grants and Funding Opportunities 

Researching grants and funding, like The ReConnect Loan and Grant Program funded through President Biden's Bipartisan Infrastructure Law, is vital for local governments to provide affordable internet access. This $1.9 billion program supports the construction, improvement, or acquisition of facilities for high-speed internet in eligible rural areas. Leveraging such initiatives enables governments to expand broadband infrastructure, ensuring equitable digital access for residents.

Consider Managing Local Government Funds For The New Year ahead of time. 

3. Teach Children Digital Literacy In School 

By equipping students with essential digital skills, such as navigating online resources and utilizing productivity tools, schools empower them to assist their families in accessing and utilizing digital resources effectively. This proactive approach not only enhances educational outcomes but also fosters digital inclusion, bridging the gap between low-income families and the digital world.

Learn about Government Data Storage and Government Data Analytics here.  

4. Provide Learning Opportunities For Adults To Use The Internet 

Providing learning opportunities for adults to use the internet can greatly benefit a community by empowering individuals with essential digital skills. By offering training programs and resources tailored to adults, communities enable lifelong learning and professional development, enhancing employment prospects and economic empowerment. Additionally, increased digital literacy among adults fosters social inclusion, as individuals gain the ability to connect with others, access services, and participate more fully in the digital economy.

Learn From San Antonio, Texas! 

We call upon local government officials to draw inspiration from San Antonio's success and replicate these outcomes in their own communities. Utilizing government management software like GovPilot can streamline processes, enhance efficiency, and facilitate data-driven decision-making. 

Booking a consultation with GovPilot offers officials and government employees the opportunity to explore tailored solutions that can address specific needs and challenges within their jurisdictions. From improving digital infrastructure to promoting equitable access to resources, GovPilot empowers governments to deliver impactful results for their constituents efficiently and effectively.

Internet Access FAQs

  • Why do citizens need the internet today?

Citizens need the internet today because everything from accessing information to completing transactions and connecting with others is increasingly moving online. It's essential for pursuing educational, professional, and personal opportunities in today's digital age.

  • What are the benefits of providing citizens with an affordable internet?

Affordable internet access empowers citizens by facilitating access to information, communication, job opportunities, and essential services, fostering greater social inclusion and economic participation in the digital age.

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Tags: Government Efficiency, Digital Transformation, GovTech