HARLINGEN, Texas (ValleyCentral) – The city of Harlingen is working to bridge the digital divide that affects residents.
On October 20, city commissioners approved a contract that will launch a feasibility study that will provide broadband access to households.
In the 2019 U.S. Community Census, nearly 8,000 Harlingen residents said they did not have internet access. City manager Gabriel Gonzalez said the city signed a contract with Houston-based company Conn Fendley. The company will conduct a study for the city on how it can provide residents with broadband.
“What they’re going to do is look at what’s available right now in terms of infrastructure and come up with a plan for the city on how to deliver broadband for ourselves to the community,” Gonzalez said.
Gonzalez says more broadband access has been a major need for the city, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“What caught our attention is of course the pandemic,” Gonzalez said. “When the school district had to switch to virtual learning, we discovered that there were students and families who did not have access to the Internet. “
The feasibility study will cost $ 100,000. The money will come from both the city of Harlingen and Harlingen CISD.
HCISD Network Coordinator Jaime Reyes said 6% of the student body still needs internet access. But at the start of the pandemic, the number of students needing broadband access was as high as 10%, which posed challenges when learning from home.
“You know, we realized we had to bring the internet to them, they couldn’t come into our classrooms,” Reyes said. “So we had to bring them the classroom and we developed a multiple approach to find a solution to provide them with this connectivity. “
But while the school district was able to identify areas of the city that needed internet, Reyes said the HCISD did not have access to all of those areas.
“So by reaching out to the city for help, we had the data, let’s make a plan to see where we are from there,” Reyes said.
And as the feasibility prepares to kick in, the city of Harlingen hopes to soon be able to provide broadband access to all of its residents.
“My hope is that we actually own, to have fiber in the soil that we own so that we don’t have to rent it to someone else anymore,” Gonzalez said. “We can have it in all of our facilities at all of our schools in the city, so that would be ideal.”