Economically challenged communities face a web of challenges in digital divide

Any federal funds received will be used to help sustain the network and keep it up to date.

San Antonio – The U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday approved a bill that would include $1 million for the San Antonio Housing Authority to expand its Wi-Fi project. The bill, along with other projects for the San Antonio area, will now go to the Senate for consideration.

Jannet Garcia, a resident of the Alazan Apache Courts, said she stretches her paycheck every month to ensure that she has $70 for internet access so that her kids and family have a way to connect to the outside world.

“It was so hard when we didn’t have any because I had to borrow our neighbor’s Wi-Fi, but then they changed the password,” Garcia said.

Her kids needed the internet for school and she needed it to file applications for jobs and fill out applications for everything else, Garcia said.

Jo Ana Alvarado, director of innovative technology for SAHA, said residents have had internet access since 2013, but it’s been limited.

Phase One of SAHA’s current project, which will go live in a few weeks, will connect all 6,000 units and 13,000 public housing residents to the internet from their units.

“We’re really going out to all corners of the property and saturating the signal. So anybody can jump on that Wi-Fi from inside their home, on their patio, in their car, wherever they feel like they need to,” Alvarado said.

The need to bridge the digital divide for those economically challenged communities was evident during the pandemic said U.S. Rep. Joaquin Castro, of San Antonio.

“It’s been tough for some families and students to connect to the Internet, to do their homework, to apply for jobs for all of that,” Castro said. “In addition to this effort for public housing in San Antonio, I expect that there will be a lot more money for Wi-Fi connections for people in urban and rural areas in the infrastructure bill that Congress is pursuing.”

Alvarado said any federal funds received will be used to help sustain the network and keep it up to date.

“The cost for the bandwidth and the ongoing operating costs are looking to be half a million dollars right now,” she said.

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Patty Santos joined the KSAT 12 News team in July 2017. She has a proven track record of reporting on hard-hitting news that affects the community.