A new national broadband map that will be used to allocate federal money to states for future high-speed internet projects overestimates the availability of broadband internet service in San Antonio, local officials say.
And the timeframe to correct the map — the deadline is Jan. 13 — means the city and county could miss out on crucial federal funding that could help expand broadband access.
In a joint letter sent to the Federal Communications Commission and the National Telecommunications Information Administration Wednesday, Bexar County, the City of San Antonio and SA Digital Connects condemned the new map, saying it “unquestionably overestimates the availability of broadband internet service in our community.”
The letter notes that according to the digital inclusion survey conducted by the city and county in 2020, one-fifth of San Antonio households — approximately 130,000 homes — do not have access to reliable broadband internet. Most unconnected residents are concentrated in low-income areas on the city’s South, East and West sides, according to the letter.
Yet the map, officials noted, does not reflect “any difference in availability throughout our community.”
The letter ends with the request that the agencies delay funding allocation decisions “until a fuller picture of broadband availability is made clear.”
Local officials aren’t waiting around, however, to see if they’ll get more time to challenge the map’s inaccuracies.
SA Digital Connects, a relatively new non-profit that aims to ensure all San Antonians have access to internet service, has partnered with Bexar County to launch a “Map Challenge” web page where San Antonians can submit a form to correct the FCC’s new map if their information is incorrect.
Marina Alderete Gavito, executive director of SA Digital Connects, said the federal government has made it extremely difficult to challenge incorrect information on the map; filling out their challenge requests are complicated, even for experts to navigate she said.
Because of how complex it is to submit a challenge to the map, SA Digital Connects said it was vital to create an easy one-stop online form to help San Antonio residents and business owners who need to correct their information, Gavito said.
Responses submitted through their form will be used to submit a mass dispute for the area to the feds, Gavito said.
Gavito acknowledged that those without broadband likely won’t be able to have access to the online form, so the nonprofit is also pursuing other avenues to submit challenges. That includes gathering existing data from the city, county and local school districts so it can report known areas without internet service that were labeled incorrectly on the map.
The nonprofit is also encouraging its 200 partner organizations to inform community members through their own outreach networks, Gavito said. She said she’s hopeful that residents who do have internet access can help report neighbors or family members who don’t.
“We must work together to prove where our neighbors need internet access so that the FCC has an accurate picture of internet connectivity for our community,” she said.
Marina Alderete Gavito is a San Antonio Report board member.