Connect Humanity plans $10 million fund to boost small business internet access and economic development in Lower Rio Grande Valley of Texas
The Texas Border Small Business Broadband Fund will invest in high-speed connectivity, digital transformation, and skills development for businesses in Hidalgo and Cameron counties.
McAllen, Texas — Connect Humanity, a non-profit fund for digital equity, and the City of Pharr to announce plans to launch a $10 million fund to invest in the digitalization of businesses in the Texas Rio Grande Valley in a bid to drive economic growth during a press announcement scheduled for Tuesday, April 11, 2023, at 1:00 pm at the Lone Star National Bank Corporate Offices located at 520 E. Nolana Ave in McAllen.
Formed in partnership with the City of Pharr’s TeamPharr.Net, and other local internet service providers (ISPs), VTX1 Companies, BTX Fiber, and SmartCom, the Fund introduced during the event will offer a one-year subscription subsidy for high-speed internet, a no-to-low-interest loan for hardware and software, and digital skills training to micro- and small-business entrepreneurs, community health clinics, and nonprofits serving low-and moderate-income communities across the Lower Rio Grande Valley border region.
“As city leaders, we have committed to taking on the digital divide in our communities because we know it is the most powerful way to unlock the many talents and potential our people have,” said Dr. Ambrosio Hernandez, Mayor of the City of Pharr, who added: “This Fund is a necessary next step on our digital journey as we ensure that every student, every neighborhood, and now, every entrepreneur, has the broadband they need to thrive.”
The Texas Border is a persistent poverty region where large ISPs have underinvested in broadband networks. Digitization has the potential to be an engine for businesses and job creation — a 2019 US Chamber of Commerce study noted that Texas could add up-to $3.8 billion to the state GDP per year by closing its rural digital divide. Yet, in the Lower Rio Grande Valley, 54 percent of households do not have a subscription to fixed broadband service according to the 2021 U.S. Census American Community Survey, and businesses and non-profits also struggle to connect.
To change this, Connect Humanity has joined with TeamPharr.Net and other partners and plans to begin with a $2 million pilot to connect 50 businesses and organizations in Hidalgo County — one of the lowest-income and least connected counties in the US. The project will partner with ISPs to deliver fiber-to-the premises, provide subsidies for affordable subscriptions, offer low-interest loans to ensure businesses can digitize operations, and provide skills training to help them get the most from digital tools.
The Ford Foundation seeded the fund with $200,000 to catalyze contributions from state and federal broadband grant programs, as well as other philanthropic and financial institutions.
Longer term, Connect Humanity aims to raise $10 million from a combination of philanthropic funds, government grants, and Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) investments to roll out the project across the Texas border region.
Announcing the initiative at the first in a series of roundtables with community groups and financial institutions, project lead at Connect Humanity Jordana Barton-Garcia said, “We have the tools we need to transform the Texas Rio Grande Valley from one of this country’s least-connected regions into a digital leader. This means a stronger economy, higher paying jobs, and more entrepreneurial opportunities. The small business broadband fund offers banks a vehicle to invest in their communities under the CRA, while overturning decades of inequalities and equipping communities with the resources to prosper in a digital society.”
The fund will also support communities to apply for Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act (IIJA) broadband grants and help with the matching funds that communities need to secure these federal funds.
Connect Humanity and partners — which include TeamPharr.Net, VTX1 Companies, SmartCom, Region One Education Service Center, ARISE Adelante, La Union Del Pueblo Entero, Hidalgo County, Cameron County, cdcb | come dream. come build., South Texas College, Cobb, Fendley and Associates, and Brownstone Consulting are also working with Rural LISC and the Intercultural Development Research Association (IDRA) to launch a Digital Workforce Development Program called LevelUp RGV to provide training and paid internships to students in the Texas Rio Grande Valley.
This initiative has the potential to launch our school systems, businesses, and workforce toward unprecedented achievements. It will also attract new investments and spark growth within our region,” said Dr. Daniel P. King, Region One Education Service Center Executive Director.
Following the press announcement, project leads will be part of a Community Reinvestment Act (CRA) Panel hosted by the Region One ESC Deep South Texas Financial Literacy Alliance, a network of regional banks coming together to increase financial literacy within the region.
- Jordana Barton-Garcia, Senior Fellow, Connect Humanity
- Dr. Daniel P. King, Executive Director, Region One Education Service Center
- Jeffrey Patterson, Vice President of Sales, VTX1 Companies
- Cynthia Garza-Reyes, City of Pharr
To learn more about the fund and how to get involved, download the brochure and email Jordana Barton-Garcia at firstname.lastname@example.org.