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San Antonio Housing Authority Competes To Connect More Low-Income Residents

Paul Flahive | Texas Public Radio
Jo Anna Alvarado explains the proposal to prosepective partners at San Antonio Housing Authority headquarters.

San Antonio Housing Authority staff members met with prospective partners like T-Mobile and Google Fiber to create a low-cost Wi-Fi network for their residents on Friday.

They’re competing against dozens of other organizations for hundreds of thousands of dollars in funding from the National Science Foundation and tech company Mozilla through their Wireless Innovation for a Networked Society challenges.

SAHA won $10,000 late last month and an honorable mention for the creative design of its proposal, which would create a wireless internet network on some of the 40 solar-powered light poles at its Cassiano Homes property. The top three projects that secured more money were in Detroit, and two cities — Chattanooga and New Market — in Tennessee.

Despite finishing outside the top three, SAHA head of Innovation Technology Jo Anna Alvarado said they are proud of the honorable mention and now they have to build it to compete in the second round.

“There’s a lot to do; a lot we can do” Alvarado said. “And we wanted to showcase that we have these big challenges.

Cassiano Homes is SAHA’s biggest property SAHA, with 499 units and 757 residents.

“When I said I wanted to go big, I meant it,” Alvarado said. “You’re giving a big award and here’s what we can do with it.”

This program would build on SAHA’s inclusion efforts so far. In 2015, SAHA was the first housing organization to join the U.S. Housing and Urban Development’s ConnectHome program that provided funding to build out free internet access to its public housing community rooms. It  also provided digital skills training to 1,300 people and given away 800 refurbished computers, through Goodwill, to people who complete the training.

But some of the problems are many of the computers they have given away are desktops, and “ these people, who love their devices, take them home and then don’t have internet access,” Alvarado said.

The Mozilla challenge stresses the projects should be open-source, sustainable, and scalable. They should also should be “as cheap as possible,” Alvarado said.

To that end, the prototype design has evolved from their round-one proposal. Initially cell phone technology was used for their data projects, but they discovered there wasn’t enough bandwidth to provide the required speeds.

Friday’s meeting hosted several wireless technology integrators giving advice on different ways of achieving the coverage they want. If SAHA wins the funding, many of these companies could be used for the project. Because of procurement rules there are no guarantees that their time will pay off, Alvarado said.

“What kind of risk are you willing to take,” she asked the vendors.

Daniel Cavazos with Ventev Wireless Infrastructure said that wasn’t his chief motivation.

“I want to be a part of this. This is my hometown,” he said.

Round two of the WINS challenge ends on June 22. A stage three demonstration event will be held at Mozilla’s Headquarters in Mountain View, California, on August 14.

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


Paul Flahive can be reached at Paul@tpr.org