My name is Mayra Delgado, but some of my favorite people call me Ms. Delgado. I am a proud Brownsville native, a 7th grade science teacher, and a founding member of Connect BTX, a nonprofit organization dedicated to advocating for the regional expansion of reliable broadband internet services. I co-founded Connect BTX because my beloved hometown is one of the country’s worst connected areas. While the majority of the country gets to reap the benefits of reliable broadband connection, our community is falling behind.
While growing up in Brownsville, meeting other kids without reliable internet service wasn’t uncommon. Like me, many of my classmates heavily relied on the local libraries or our school computer labs to study and complete assignments after hours. I was fortunate enough to be able to take advantage of these critical public services throughout my academic career.
However, due to the ongoing global pandemic, most Brownsville students are now learning from home. In addition to the multitude of life-altering challenges ushered in by COVID-19, I have many students who do not have access to a reliable internet connection as schools across the nation shift towards hosting classes primarily online. I have listened to the frustrations of parents, students, and teachers alike. Aside from navigating these uncertain waters, parents must worry about the fragility of securing a quality education for their children due to a lack of connectivity. Many households simply cannot afford to pay the exorbitant broadband fees, and several of those who can reside in areas neglected by internet service providers. If you are a Brownsville resident, you have most likely either experienced these issues first-hand or know someone who has. How is it that my students are struggling through the same disparities that I encountered as a young pupil over 15 years ago? Brownsville students do not currently have the luxury of safely visiting the public library, computer lab, coffee shop, or even a friend’s house for basic internet access.
Sometimes attending my science class or doing jumping jacks in virtual P.E. are the only times my students get to be with their friends or “virtually” out of their homes. We make jokes, we read books together, and we show our pets on the screen in an attempt to simulate in-person social interactions. Aside from getting their daily lessons, my students are getting social time, physical activity, and support from their classmates and teachers. It is unfair that some of my students cannot partake in learning during these trying times, but also unfair that they cannot be involved in at least this social support system we have built online.
There have been many heroic efforts by local entities like school districts and municipalities to reach as many families as possible with setting up mobile wifi hotspots in parking lots, distributing thousands of MiFi Devices, computers, ipads etc… All of these actions are a great step in the right direction and make an immense difference for families, but they are not lasting solutions. Today’s generation needs access to reliable broadband internet, but so will every generation after them. Access to reliable broadband internet is pivotal for today’s generation, but critical for tomorrow’s. A community-wide broadband investment would benefit our families and loved ones for at least 50 years. By laying the groundwork today, we will ensure that future generations are spared from the stifling effects of being disconnected from the internet.
As a community, we have been getting by, but this simply does not cut it. Our students deserve better. Our community deserves better. Too many of us have to physically leave the safety of our homes for internet access just to keep up with daily responsibilities. Even before this pandemic, I had students completing their school work at fast food places or the rare parking lot with free Wi-Fi.
This digital divide is vast, but not insurmountable. There are countless communities across the United States similar to ours, who are predominantly low-income, lacking in infrastructure, and actively neglected by internet service providers, that have successfully banded together to bridge the digital divide.
I wish I could tell you that this issue only affects some of us, but, in reality, every day that we go without upgrading the internet infrastructure we need in our communities, we fall further behind. The situation may improve after the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic subsides,but we will still be lacking the most important ingredient for building the human capital of tomorrow: reliable broadband internet for all of us.
We’re all in this together and we share a mutual responsibility to secure the foundation for a more promising future for the Brownsville region. Today, you can help the City of Brownsville by filling out the survey linked below to help our leaders better understand your personal needs and desires for reliable and affordable broadband internet. For tomorrow, you can join the ConnectBTX mailing list to remain informed of community events and join the ongoing efforts to advocate for broadband internet access.
Help us Connect Brownsville to better broadband for all!