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In the delivery of public service functions, especially in the area of Information and Communication Technology (ICT), annals of literature have been written in scholarly journals worldwide on the best way to provide ICT services to the resident, commercial business owner and educational institutions to close the “digital divide” for access to such services. Digital divide, more easily defined, is the ability or non-
Depending upon which geographic region of the United States is viewed, the digital divide is prevalent. In New York City, for example, it was noted that approximately 20 percent of households in 2017 do not have residential Internet services and do not have mobile Internet options available. Additionally, Bronx, New York shows 26 percent of households without access. The majority of the unconnected are minority and poor.1 In the September 7, 2017 Governing periodical it was pointed out that even with the rapid increase of Internet services and new digital devices, numerous low-
Even the Federal Reserve Banks of Dallas/San Antonio at a Consumer Compliance Conference on March 21, 2017 reported: “Of the 381 metropolitan areas in the U.S., those with the lowest rates of computer ownership and Internet use include three Texas border metro areas.” The three areas referenced were the McAllen/Edinburg and Mission areas, of which Alton, Texas, is included. It noted only a 55.2% ownership/access ratio.
Enter the City of Alton, Texas and the City of Alton Development Corporation
The City of Alton was incorporated on April 1, 1978 as a General Rule Charter City and subsequently became a Home Rule Charter City in May 2006. The City of Alton Development Corporation (CADC) that consists of 4A and 4B corporations, respectively, was established in July 1996. Currently population, according to the latest Census Bureau is 17,500 as the city is located in the Rio Grande Valley (RGV) in Hidalgo County. The RGV is commonly referred to as South Texas.
Within the corporate limits of Alton, three different public school districts exist: La Joya ISD, Mission CISD and Sharyland ISD. The total number of schools of various grade levels is nine, of which Mission CISD has a total of seven, including a Collegiate High School. Alton elected officials and members of the non-
While the city has increased from a population in 2000 of 4,100 to 17,500 in 2018, further thresholds for closing the digital divide within the city were apparent. Steve Pena, Chief Executive Officer for the CADC advised that: “The City of Alton elected officials and the CADC board members had been in discussions since 2014 researching the construction of a Wi-
One of the mission goals in closing the digital divide was to allow a certain level of access to students without cost consideration for them to complete school assignments assigned for home. A partnership with the Mission CISD, the City and CADC established the first Digital Library for the public and school children. A reading portal called MyOn was set up where Kindergarten through the 12th grade levels could access books/periodicals from any device with Internet access. The facility opened in 2018. The cost to the City was $51,900 for the ICT hardware/software from Capital Construction Funds funded from a 2017 Certification of Obligation bond, while $145,000 has been budgeted from the General Fund of the City for operational expenses.
Background for Wi-
While it has been stated that there are salient and compelling reasons for implementing digital access, ample support from a scholarly viewpoint supports the need to close the digital divide. As one researcher noted, “Scholars of digital inequality have explored the myriad ways that offline forms of inequality are reproduced in the digital realm both within and across countries Important connections have been made between digital inequalities and larger social inequalities including gender, economic status, race and ethnicity, age and educational attainment.”2She further writes that, “Thanks to these scholars, digital resources are recognized as necessary for improved life chances and well-
With the goal to close the digital divide in Alton, officials did indeed identify ICT and the provision of a “public good” as an attainable goal. According to the Community Networks Community Network Map, there are over 750 communities nationwide in which local governments have invested in wired telecommunications networks as January 2018.4
According to Pena, wired telecommunications appeared to be a viable option in 2014. However, research and cost estimates proved otherwise. As a small city and corporation, as are most municipalities in the area, funding is always a fundamental challenge. Initial budget estimates proved to be in the $3 million range. With the continuing development of technology, the CADC researched the scope of ICT and the approach to secure such technology with a planned implementation for budgetary and transparency considerations.
In reviewing the approach to close the digital divide, several components stand out from the Alton case study. Specifically, four concepts were identified which laid the foundation and subsequent growth of the Wi-
A trusting partner came in the presence of WiFiRUs LLC. The firm is owned by Dr. Gilberto de los Santos, Professor Emeritus, University of Texas Pan American (Now University of Texas Rio Grande Valley). Dr. de los Santos owns a Marketing Consulting and Technology Company located in the Rio Grande Valley of Texas. While he has a resume of 52 years in combined experience in marketing and IT, his previous entry in the City of Alton was in the area of providing a housing need that existed within the city. In 2007, one of his companies built a multi-
Utilizing the research gathered on Wi-
Based upon the positive pilot program, proposals were then received in the public forum by the CADC to determine the financial component. At this point, the CADC put forth the concept of a public-
Thus, the private partner (WiFiRUs) was to provide the software and maintenance to the CADC with a ceiling cap on maintenance. In addition to insure the integrity of the overall system, the private partner would have sole oversight of any additional premium pay channels to the end subscriber, if they elected to engage such services. With regard to public-
With regards to financial planning, the public-
All of the transactions were conducted in a public setting that allowed transparency of all parties, especially when public funds were utilized. The underlying research and identified components provide a foundation from which general presumptions can be drawn and applied towards any specific Wi-
2 Laura Robinson (2018) The identity curation game: digital inequality, identity work, and emotion management, Information, Communication & Society, 21:5, 661-
6Opitz, L. K., Kosfeld, M., & van Dick, R. (2014). Who shall I trust? Trust as a mediator between identity salience and cooperative behavior. Schmalenbach Business Review, 66(5),50-
7Information provided by Steve Pena, CEO, City of Alton Development Corporation, Texas
John R. Milford is a Graduate Professional Practitioner Lecturer III Coordinator – Certified Public Manager Program, at the Public Affairs and Security Studies Department, College of Liberal Arts, University of Texas Rio Grande Valley, Edinburg Campus, Edinburg, Texas and Lifetime Member – Texas City Management Association. He can be reached at: email@example.com.
Picture Courtesy of City of Alton Texas Development Corporation and Wi-
INFORMATION & COMMUNICATION TECHNOLOGY
Closing the Digital Divide: A Case Study in Alton, Texas
By John Milford