Partnerships will drive deployment, low and no-cost Internet and digital equity
Note: The following is an OpEd column by Amarillo Mayor Ginger Nelson.
The city of Amarillo is blazing a new trail in Texas as the first major city to marry the power of the private sector with funding from the American Rescue Plan to drive deployment of highspeed, high-security internet connections throughout our community.
Through a standard, transparent procurement process, we recently awarded AT&T, an experienced and proven broadband provider, the contract to make internet connections available throughout our city. This was done with a $20 million-plus investment from AT&T.
With this partnership, AT&T will lay fiber to connect homes, apartments, schools and other government buildings, and businesses in Amarillo. This expanded fiber network will be the fastest among major providers and will offer symmetrical speeds of up to 5-Gigs on downloads and uploads. This is ultra-fast internet, allowing a user to stream ultra-HD quality video on up to 4 devices at the same time or download an entire music album in around seven seconds.
Internet access plans will be at no cost to citizens who qualify for the federal Affordable Connectivity Program, with the goal of closing the digital divide here in Amarillo.
This is the first project on such a large scale in Texas, and we are proud to be leading the way and setting an example for other cities and local governments. In Amarillo, we considered several options for making the most of these dollars before choosing to engage in a public-private partnership – a solution that will allow us to leverage federal dollars and private sector funds.
We suffered from a digital divide like many communities across Texas, but we are also unique in that Amarillo has a significant refugee population. According to the Refugee Language Project, “12,000 refugees have settled in Amarillo and 59% of this population are enrolled in English as a Second Language Program.”
As we all know, access to the internet and educational opportunities are vital for all of us. Helping all Amarillo residents get connected is critical.
In fact, thanks to this collaboration, we were able to greatly multiply our investment and better serve local residents. What’s more, we are able to harness the expertise of a proven provider, and ensure our taxpayers aren’t footing the bill for the continued upgrades, daily maintenance and security improvements that internet infrastructure requires.
Providing connectivity is only the first step. The city also has developed partnerships with multiple agencies such as the Amarillo Area Foundation, Region 16 and Texas Tech University Health Sciences Center to help with digital education, once our new fiber infrastructure is up and running. These partnerships will help us create digital equity including access to devices, training, and digital literacy so that the power of our new infrastructure is available to all.
Our program is for today and for the future. We recognize that consumer demand for speed and network capacity will only grow. With AT&T, we have a broadband network that is futureproofed, meaning, they will have the ability to implement even faster speeds as consumers’ needs grow.
Amarillo is taking the lead in ensuring all its residents have access to the worldwide web and its countless uses – from education to workforce development to health care and more. AT&T, with a long tradition of excellence in communication, is the right choice in this historic project that will benefit the entire Amarillo community and serve as a template for other cities and communities to follow on how to connect their residents in the digital age.