San Antonio will study the depths of its digital divide, including the number of people who don’t have access to the Internet, know how to use it or a capable device. Access to the Internet means access to health and government services, transportation, and education — and for many it’s a necessity.
Data shows San Antonio is one of the worst connected cities in the country for its size, 35th worst according to the National Digital Inclusion Alliance. Where those gaps exist in skills, technology and access geographically remains largely unknown because the data is incomplete and in many cases doesn’t exist.
“A lot of the state and federal data on this are estimates,” said Emily Binet Royall, a Smart City Coordinator for the city. “And we want to work with UTSA on this to find a scientific method to provide more accurate data for San Antonio.”
The city will partner with the University of Texas San Antonio to create this baseline.
Part of the study will provide profiles for each city district so elected officials know the scope of the issue for their constituent’s needs.
“It’s important for leadership and council to understand the needs of their area, but also across the city,” said Candelaria Mendoza, a Smart City Coordinator.
San Antonio has talked about the lack of access since the first digital inclusion summit in 2017 under then-Mayor Ivy Taylor. Since then, the city has formed a council committee tasked in part with taking on the digital deficiency. The community formed the San Antonio Digital Inclusion Alliance, a group of nonprofits and individuals working in the space, including Goodwill Industries and the San Antonio Housing Authority.
Public housing has seen an uptick in free WiFi, and projects to support that goal. City Parks and Recreation have built out access into many parks and community centers. But the city still suffers from lacking digital infrastructure and access according to city staff.
“We haven’t seen the needle move on this,” said Manny Pelaez, councilman for the northwest side. “I think there is a sense of urgency that we’re feeling that has never been felt before.”
Pelaez said the new council — which is one of the most progressive in the city’s history — is another reason why it could happen now and not before.
City staff are in the early stages of planning the study, and don’t have a timeline yet. Many, including Pelaez, believe the data will galvanize council to act.
“In a world where there are infinite needs but limited resources, the only way to effectively deploy resources is to have accurate information,” he said.