McALLEN – More than a thousand homes and businesses here will soon be able to connect to the Internet at the super-fast speeds offered by fiber optic cables.
That’s the news, which emerged Thursday at an AT&T store on the corner of 10th Street and Trenton Road, which officials are touting as an opportunity to close gaps in online connectivity.
“This is a great day for us at AT&T and for the Valley. We are very happy to be here,” said Mario Barragan, director of external legislative affairs for AT&T.
“Right now, we have a unique opportunity to bridge the digital divide by improving high-speed internet access, helping it and making it more affordable for low-income households,” Barragan said.
Barragan explained that AT&T has invested more than $7 billion in improving telecommunications infrastructure across Texas — of which $2 billion will have been invested between 2021 and 2023, and about $120 million in the Valley alone. of the Rio Grande.
“Today’s announcement is also part of our continued commitment to the Rio Grande Valley,” Barragan said.
The announcement was much welcomed news by elected officials such as McAllen Mayor Javier Villalobos and State Senator Juan “Chuy” Hinojosa, D-McAllen, who spoke about how the COVID-19 pandemic has brought to light the numerical inequalities of the valley.
“We realized during COVID that maybe we were a little behind, and we also realized that things had changed and they weren’t coming back,” Villalobos said.
The mayor explained how the pandemic has triggered the transformation of people’s homes into multipurpose spaces as social distancing has forced people out of their offices and schools.
“Home, for the most part, has now become the epicenter of what? For family, for entertainment, even for business,” Villalobos said.
“It’s economic development, maintaining and creating jobs. And it all goes hand in hand,” he said.
Hinojosa echoed those thoughts.
“We found out how important that was,” the state senator said of being able to get high-speed internet.
“Not only because of distance education…we also discovered the importance of the Internet for health care, telemedicine. We do a lot of that now, so it’s important. We also found out how important it is for our economy, how companies do business these days,” Hinojosa said.
Some experts believe the COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the rate at which industries – such as education, health and commerce – have converted to an almost fully digital economy by at least a decade.
And in the Valley, where fiber optic connectivity is nearly non-existent in cities, and some settlements lack internet connectivity at all, this inability to connect has laid bare the chasm of the digital divide that exists here.
Hinojosa said it’s something that has become a big concern for state lawmakers, who in the 2021 legislative session passed bills aimed at bolstering the state’s telecommunications infrastructure. State.
The digital divide has also caught the attention of federal lawmakers.
At the height of the pandemic, Congress passed trillions of dollars in relief funds intended to save jobs, bolster the healthcare sector, and also bolster the nation’s hodgepodge broadband foundation.
In 2021, the US $1.9 trillion bailout package, in particular, contained $25 billion in allocations for broadband infrastructure expansion efforts across the country.
These funds came in addition to smaller allocations that were made through the CARES Act and other Congressional funding appropriations in 2020.
For Barragan, federal stimulus packages give local governments a chance to do something rare: catapult the tech infrastructure of their communities.
“Communities have a unique opportunity to extend broadband to underserved areas. And they (do it) by taking advantage of available federal funds made available through the US bailout,” Barragan said.
“We believe cities should use these funds in concert with public/private partnerships that would force private Internet service providers to bear the cost and risk of building and maintaining network technology, freeing up public resources to meet local priorities,” he said. said.