San Antonio officials announced Tuesday night it had formed a new standing committee to address technology and innovation.
According to Mayor Ron Nirenberg, the innovation and technology committee will take on smart city goals, strategy for growing the cyber security industry, digital inclusion initiatives, open data and expanding municipal broadband access all under one roof.
“We’ve been working in a number of different silos, but it’s really had no unified policy vision applied to it. So this is a committee established to direct that,” he said.
Nirenberg said work on smart cities and open data spurred the committee’s creation.
As a councilman, Nirenberg wanted to connect public institutions to CPS’ unused fiber optic cable. The city is barred by state law from offering municipally owned broadband internet access to residents, but public properties including city buildings, public universities, parks and libraries can connect.
The unused or dark fiber system is called COSAnet, and he said they have been slowly moving the ball, connecting it to emergency services and having high-level talks with public entities to connect.
Council members Rebecca Viagran, Roberto Trevino, Shirley Gonzalez and Manny Pelaez are on the committee along with Rackspace co-founder Dirk Elmendorf and CyberSecurity San Antonio director Will Garrett.
Digital equity advocate DeAnne Cuellar is also on the new committee. She said she will push for increasing internet access for low-income households.
“We are one of the most socioeconomically segregated cities in the nation,” she said. “And I truly believe that connecting San Antonians is one of the ways to change that.”
Nirenberg agreed, saying the city has a long way to go on connecting its citizens.
“What we have learned from the map of the digital divide in San Antonio is that it tracks very well with socioeconomic disparity,” he said.
Educating people on what their options are for connecting, guiding private Internet Service Providers like AT&T and Google to go further in low-income communities through permitting, and expanding public infrastructure are all possible agenda items for the new committee.
District 8 Councilman Pelaez will chair the committee and said his goal is simple.
“We have to figure out what ‘smart city’ means to us and our stakeholders because it is becoming a phrase that is thrown around more and more,” he said.