BROWNSVILLE, Texas – Brownsville Mayor Trey Mendez predicts a much-heralded universal access broadband initiative will help lure new businesses to his city.

The City of Brownsville and its private partner in the project, Lit Communities, are set to hold a broadband signing ceremony at city hall on Wednesday, July 20, starting at 10 a.m.

“I think the investments we have made in infrastructure, in ways to make it easier for the development community to do their thing, are going to help the city and the upcoming broadband initiative is just icing on the cake,” Mendez said.

“I think that is going to make it easier for us to be able to recruit companies in the tech sector and improve our healthcare system, certainly improve our quality of life and educational system.”

Asked if investing in broadband was an economic development tool, Mendez said: “Absolutely. When we were thinking this out we saw it as 100 percent an economic development tool. We saw it as value for recruiting industry. We have really focused on recruiting small business and helping small business grow. We have been looking for innovative companies in the early stages, to help them grow, foster that relationship because we think that if they start here they will stay here. 

“And having broadband in a city-wide fiber network makes us more attractive to these types of companies and it is essential now we have learned that it is a commodity and it is something that we need. It is really something that is non-negotiable. We need it and thankfully the City of Brownsville saw that a couple of years before others did. So, we are ahead of the curve on that and it is a good time for us to have started that initiative.”

Mendez spoke exclusively to the Rio Grande Guardian International News Service about his city’s broadband initiative after giving the welcome remarks at an investor’s event hosted jointly by the Rio Grande Valley Partnership and the Greater Brownsville Incentives Corporation and held at Main Event Brownsville. 

Asked about the timeframe of the project, Mendez said: “We will have a signing ceremony, God-willing, next week. That will allow us to start to break ground and get the project done so the total time frame, realistically, is about 18 months and hopefully at that point we will be able to light up the first homes and really get this off the ground.”

The City of Brownsville has been criticized for developing its broadband plan by big telecom companies like AT&T and Spectrum. They say the city is wasting taxpayer dollars because the internet service providers have already invested in such infrastructure. Asked to respond to the criticism, Mendez said: 

“The telecommunications companies, the service providers really like to talk about coverage and when they talk about coverage that just means people are able to get on the internet. That does not mean anything about the speeds. That does not mean anything about the quality. The actual infrastructure that exists in Brownsville for the most part is very antiquated. It is, for the most part, not fiber, which is the most viable asset in Internet and broadband infrastructure, certainly. So, while they may have the ability to provide internet to households it is not the type of internet we need, it is not the type of speeds that we need and while it may be accessible so to speak it is certainly not affordable in the return you are getting for the price you are paying.”

Asked about the City of Brownsville’s partnership with Lit Communities, Mendez said: “They see it. Unlike the internet service providers of the past, they really see the business model. They see that Brownsville is ready for this. They have done all their homework as far as where the needs are, who it is that needs it, and the cost and what types of monies are available and what types of customers are available and so for them, they see it as certainly something that is going to bring a return on investment. We see it as something that is going to be revenue-producing for us within a few years, so I think it is a win-win. And then you add the customers and it is the third part of that win.”

Asked if other cities along the border should follow Brownsville’s lead on broadband, Mendez said: “I really think we are a model for border communities for this type of initiative. There are a couple of other cities that have tried this in the past and have been successful. Much smaller than Brownsville. But a city of our size, where we are located, with our economic situation, this is certainly a model and if anybody else out there wants to talk about how we did it then I would be happy to talk to them. There are a lot of things to be aware of. I think the most important thing is figuring out what exists in your community, what the needs are and how much it is going to cost and because we started this a couple of years ago we already had that.”

GBIC Executive Director Helen Ramirez agrees that Brownsville’s broadband plan will help lure new business to the city.

“We are bold in our thinking and that includes innovation. So approving the broadband project is very important to us. The developers realize the importance of having great connectivity for their new companies coming in,” Ramirez said.

“They are very excited that we have an alternative and are building that out and making the investment because they see that that is very innovative. Especially for a new tech company or innovative company or somebody who has never been here; understanding that we are going to have that in our hands because it is such an important part of doing business these days. They see that our thinking is innovative and bold but responsible as well.”

Ramirez said Brownsville’s broadband project would be affordable.

“Our philosophy and the mayor’s has always been, one, fill the gaps in broadband, which we do, and also, provide it at a reasonable, affordable price. So, you will have different price points that are affordable to the community but you will also have the cutting edge (service) for a company that wants to have that. So, I think it is good to have choice. And that is what we are offering, choice.”

Asked how Brownsville plans to buy down the cost of broadband, Ramirez said:

“Well, by using some of our ARPA or American Rescue Plan money towards building out some of the infrastructure. States do it all the time. If you look at toll roads, the state puts in so much money and then private industry puts in ‘x’ amount to money but the state subsidy allows for it to be less costly. So, in our case, why is fiber connectivity going to be less costly? Because we are putting in some of the main middle mile infrastructure. Which makes economic sense. And who will benefit from that? Our residents and our businesses. And, a lot of them are small businesses.”

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