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Technology & Entrepreneurship

Digital Inclusion Alliance Looks At New Structure To Help Connect San Antonio Homes

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Brandon Watts | https://www.flickr.com/photos/wattsbw2004/6819759428

For years, social service providers like Goodwill Industries, the San Antonio Housing Authority and the San Antonio Public Library have launched various programs to connect the 25 percent of homes in the city without internet access.

In 2015, SAHA piloted the federal ConnectHome project that funded internet connections on its properties, provided some refurbished devices, and digital literacy training. The library also had a digital literacy program. Goodwill helps 20,000 people a year find a job, often through online resources.

The Digital Inclusion Alliance of San Antonio grew out of last March’s Digital Inclusion Summit and, since forming, the two biggest successes of the alliance are visibility and partnerships, including joining forces with the city of San Antonio.

“We think it is critical,” said Angelique De Oliveira, business development head for Goodwill Industries of San Antonio.

The city’s new Innovation and Technology Committee addressed inclusion as part of its mandate.

“It elevates the issue and brings more support from a key player: the municipality,” De Oliveira said.

It's unclear what role the city and county will have in the alliance going forward. Some of that is because the Alliance itself has to make some tough decisions about its future, officials said.

The dozens of organizations represented by the alliance range from the SAHA to T-Mobile. So far, it has been a loose affiliation and many within the volunteer organization have said they need to formalize its structure in order to take the next steps.

“For me, the clock is ticking right now. These decisions need to be made,” said DeAnneCuellar, who is an alliance steering committee member.

How the organization votes, who can be on the steering committee, whether they are governed by a charter or form a new nonprofit are all to be determined, she said.

“We don’t want to mess up a good thing,” she said.

Steering committee member Candelaria Mendoza works for the public library, and she said last March’s summit put the digital divide on the map. Getting good data from the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, and getting the community talking about the issue has made it easier to approach funders with a good case for taking it on.

Connecting people with the internet is a vital library service, she said, pointing out they have more than 2 million public Wi-Fi hours last year. But now they are able to write grants specifically about digital inclusion.

Since forming, the library netted more than $43,000 for pilot programs connecting homes to the internet.

She said with the alliance gearing up to plan its second summit this fall, they need to decide the organization’s shape.

“We have a few people that are kind of informally letting us know that they are willing to support it financially,” she said.Whatever they decide, she says, the organization has a long way to go to accomplish its goals and motivate volunteers to get there.

Paul Flahive can be reached at paul@tpr.org or on Twitter @paulflahive