The American Rescue Plan provides a once in a lifetime opportunity for the Rio Grande Valley.

As such, it is imperative that our local elected leaders to be strategic and forward-thinking when considering how to spend the funds.

According to the Lower Rio Grande Development Council, roughly $10 billion is slated for the RGV to deliver immediate and direct relief to families and workers impacted by the COVID-19 crisis. 

Rio Grande Valley communities have the opportunity to invest these funds in programs and projects that will pay dividends long after this one-time infusion of money. 

Broadband internet connectivity, for example, is foundational to everything in our lives – from healthcare and education to public safety and economic development – and our local leaders would be wise to invest in our communications networks now to give our region a significant boost in the short term and position us for continued growth in the long term. 

When the pandemic hit local leaders were rightly concerned about access to broadband services as students and workers transitioned many activities and learning online. The Valley felt this transition keenly as the pandemic further and sharply revealed the challenges we face related to broadband accessibility, affordability and adoption in many local households. 

That is why many of our communities have put broadband infrastructure high on their to-do list when it comes to investing federal rescue funds. We support this goal, and we also support getting the most out of that investment by leveraging these funds to draw long-term, private-sector investment to the RGV.

That could take the form of public-private partnerships with trusted, proven broadband providers, which would stretch our rescue plan dollars and secure private investment to build and maintain our broadband infrastructure.

Stretching our rescue dollars is paramount, as is ensuring taxpayers aren’t left with the bill when those dollars are gone. So, when it comes to broadband specifically, it is critical that our leaders understand the significant and ongoing financial commitment when it comes to building and maintaining a robust broadband infrastructure.  

In the past five years alone, private-sector companies have invested hundreds of billions of dollars to build and maintain wireless networks in this country and tens of millions in the Rio Grande Valley alone. That is the type of investment necessary to maintain and upgrade these complex networks.

There are many advantages to partnering with private sector providers for infrastructure investment. The private sector assumes the cost (and risk) for building, operating, and refreshing networking technology. Government funding and employee resources are then freed up to address other local pressing priorities.

Local funding from the American Rescue Plan provides exciting opportunities for the Valley – opportunities that can create and sustain jobs, bolster access to health care, enhance education and attract new investment to our area now and into the future. 

We encourage local officials to harness the power of the federal rescue dollars that are planned for the Valley, and wisely invest these one-in-a-lifetime funds for the long-term future and maximum benefit of the Rio Grande Valley.

Editor’s Note: The above guest column was penned by Sergio Contreras, president and CEO of the Rio Grande Valley Partnership, the RGV’s regional chamber of commerce. The above column appears in The Rio Grande Guardian with the permission of the author. Contreras can be reached by email via: [email protected]

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