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Left in the Dark: the fight to increase SA's broadband access

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Increasingly characterized as a basic utility and not the luxury service it initially hit the market as, internet access can level the playing field for those in disadvantaged communities. Widespread availability, Nirenberg and Ozuna argue, would especially help those traditionally left out of the benefits netted from online access, mainly minorities, low-income and rural residents, those with disabilities and seniors.

That gap in service can have a detrimental effect on upward mobility—for instance, more than 80 percent of Fortune 500 companies only accept online job applications, according to the FCC.

“We take for granted that we live in a plugged-in community,” Nirenberg tells the Current. “But the evidence is clear that vast areas of our city are still not part of the digital environment. San Antonio has made significant strides to bridge the digital divide, but there’s still a good opportunity to do even more here.”

While some reports suggest access to mobile wireless is on the rise among those lacking in home broadband, there remains a glaring hole. As Ozuna asks rhetorically, “Can you apply for a job on your cellphone? Can you write and research a paper on your cellphone?” By shifting some of the network to other governmental-based sites, those unable to afford high-speed internet access at home could get connected through their local libraries or schools, at least theoretically.

“Things are changing very fast; more and more cities are taking a hard look at broadband infrastructure,” says Ozuna, pointing to Lafayette, Chicago and Harlem as examples. A parallel closer to home can be found in Austin, where a public broadband system is up and running, feeding high-speed access to all Austin ISD schools. “We are a large city that strives to be a world class—so, it’s just something we can’t afford not to do.”

Ozuna says SAABN is in talks with area school districts, redevelopment project managers, San Antonio Housing Authority folks and members of the County government. But the road to connectivity won’t happen overnight—results could take up to two years. In the meantime, says Ozuna, interested citizens should speak up and directly contact their representatives, “Tell your council member, tell your state legislator—your voice on that one issue will make a difference.”

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