Connect Humanity is launching the Texas Border Small Business Broadband Fund, in partnership with Internet Service Providers (ISPs) TeamPharr.Net, VTX1 Companies, BTX Fiber, and SmartCom.
The fund will leverage philanthropic and Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) funds to deliver affordable high speed internet and digital skills training to micro- and small-business entrepreneurs, community health clinics, and nonprofits across the Lower Rio Grande Valley border region.
Seed funding has been provided by the Ford Foundation.
Why is this needed?
Access to broadband has transformed our lives and the economy at large. It has become the essential lever to change across all the areas of community development – education and workforce development health housing, small business development, access to financial services and disaster response. Yet broadband access and adoption continue to lag behind creating a “digital divide” that further deepens preexisting and entrenched economic, social and political disparities, particularly among low income and rural communities.
This is acutely experienced across the South Texas border region, which is one of the four persistent poverty areas of the country where 20% or more of residents have remained under the poverty line in at least three decades. Furthermore, the Texas border as some of the least digitally connected counties in the country.
About the Texas Border Small Business Broadband Fund
Rather than focusing on what the region lacks, we recognize the enormous human and social capital and entrepreneurial spirit that will thrive with the foundational broadband infrastructure investment and digital skills training.
A 2019 U.S. Chamber of Commerce study noted that Texas could add nearly $3.8 billion to the state GDP per year if the state closes its rural digital divide. The report also illustrates that rural small businesses believe that greater broadband availability would boost efficiency annual sales, job creation and wages. Yet there are currently no programs available to small businesses, health centers, and nonprofits that are similar to, for example, the Federal Communication Commission’s Affordable Connectivity Program that provides a subsidy for residential connectivity and affordable devices.
This is why we are launching the Texas Border Small Business Broadband Fund, which will address the “three legs of the stool” of digital inclusion, infrastructure affordability (subscription and devices) and Digital Skills Training – to uplift and strengthen small-business development across the region.
Partnering with CRA-eligible small businesses, small business ISPs and a municipal ISP to deliver performance-based financing to de-risk and incentivize fibre-to-the-premises drops to eligible micro- and small-business entrepreneurs, community health clinics and nonprofits.
Offering a subsidy of $40 per month for up to one year of connectivity, plus a no- to low-interest loan for hardware and software, to give eligible businesses the runway needed to digitize (for example point of sale digital payment processing, client development tools, online online sales and payments). These efforts will result in meaningful take-rate and use to support the business case for ISP infrastructure investment.
Delivering training on how to use digital tools to grow a business ensures that the tools and connectivity provided are effectively used and that business owners are confident when moving into the digital space. This also further ensures the ISPs maintain customer take-rate further de-risking performance based investments.
We are seeking to launch the fund with a $2 million pilot project in Hidalgo County, one of the lowest income and least connected counties in the United States, to connect up to 50 micro- and small-businesses, community health clinics and nonprofits.
This pilot project will inform business needs, financial and sustainability modeling, and business and economic development impact. Based on the pilot project learnings, we aim to launch a $10 million fund across the Texas border region. Tools such as this Fund help banks meet their obligations under the Community Reinvestment Act, and through innovation in blended finance, such as this, we will truly be able to close the digital divide and empower historically marginalized communities to can take to take control of their own digital futures.
Learn more about the Fund
We will be holding a series of philanthropy and bank roundtables to provide more program details including topics such as:
- The Community Reinvestment Act and how it can be used to close the digital divide
- CRA as a catalyst to leverage federal IIJA funding and other grants.
- Pilot project details and long term vision
- Question and Answer session with the experts
To join upcoming roundtables, please send me an email: Jordana Barton-Garcia, senior fellow at [email protected] to indicate your interest.
Editor’s Note: The above guest column was penned by Jordana Barton-Garcia, senior fellow at Connect Humanity. The column appears in The Rio Grande Guardian International News Service with the permission of the author.
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