Even before the COVID-19 pandemic highlighted the importance of the internet, improving access was on City of Victoria leaders’ to-do list. In November 2019, the City Council adopted a resolution requesting that the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) enforce their established customer service standards on Suddenlink, the primary internet service provider in the city.
When the pandemic hit, everyone relied on streaming services and other online forms of entertainment when it became unsafe to go out. Adults began working from home, while schools engaged children in remote learning.
In the midst of this, the City of Victoria established the Victoria Broadband Commission, consisting of partners in public organizations related to governmental, educational, medical and economic development endeavors. Additionally, ConnectedNation provided a broadband expert to support the work of the Victoria Broadband Commission. The commission has already made strides to improve the internet in Victoria, and we are looking forward to many more future initiatives.
The group released a request for proposals (RFP) seeking solutions for accessible, affordable and reliable high-speed internet connectivity in Victoria and the surrounding region. There were 14 responsive submissions ranging from developing a plan to constructing an entire network.
From that effort, the City immediately welcomed Sparklight (formerly CableOne) as they implemented their plan to expand upon their existing commercial network with a new residential fiber-to-the-home network. Sparklight has completed a “walkout,” which is an evaluation of sites for aboveground and underground network installation. Sparklight expects to begin construction this month.
The City also accepted a proposal from CobbFendley, an engineering firm, recommending a feasibility study to identify the problems and solutions for connectivity throughout the City. The complete study is available online at www.victoriatx.gov/broadband.
The first recommendation that came from the study was engagement in public/private partnerships—similar to the work to be done with Sparklight. City staff continue to work with several providers and companies to improve internet service in our community.
The second recommendation was the development of targeted infrastructure aimed at expanding coverage and access to multiple providers. From that effort, the City began conversations around developing a “middle mile,” which would give providers an avenue to extend their networks from the high-adoption areas in the northern half of the city to low-adoption regions of the southern half of the city. The City is actively engaged in conversations with providers about how best to help them serve the entire City and do it as quickly as possible.
The third recommendation was to use existing resources to promote digital literacy and encourage broadband adoption throughout the City. There are many reasons why some residents in Victoria choose not to subscribe to any internet service, even in locations where the service is available. We will discuss how to address financial barriers and build digital literacy in a future column.
Finally, the fourth recommendation is participation in regional initiatives. One planned project would create a fiber loop stretching from Aransas County to the Victoria Regional Airport and back again. The City continues to support that project, which will provide redundancy and ensure connectivity even after a disaster. It also offers the best avenue for connecting to high-speed internet throughout our entire region.
As a regional hub, Victoria benefits when our neighboring communities benefit. To that end, the City also supports the University of Houston-Victoria’s Center for Regional Collaboration, which is making great strides on behalf of Victoria County’s rural communities and throughout the Golden Crescent Region.
There are many more great things to come from the City’s broadband improvement program and related efforts throughout our region. We encourage you to keep following the initiative through our City Facebook page and www.victoriatx.gov/broadband.
Darrek Ferrell is an assistant city manager for the City of Victoria.