The Brownsville City Commission came a step closer to closing the city’s connectivity gap this week when commissioners voted unanimously March 30 to proceed with public-private partnership negotiations for the design and construction of a citywide fiber network.

The network will include 93-mile “middle-mile backbone” with design to last-mile fiber and will connect 32 anchor institutions including city facilities, police, fire, emergency medical services and public parks.

Brownsville Mayor Trey Mendez said “making broadband accessible and affordable for our citizens has been a priority of mine since the day I was elected.”

He noted that the city was rated one of the least connected communities in the country in 2018 and 2019, but that after more than two years of planning, “we are about to change that.”

“The middle and last mile infrastructure will enhance our community’s quality of life and create new opportunities for economic development,” Mendez said. “I look forward to seeing this project propel Brownsville into the future.”

The city will use $19.5 million in American Rescue Plan Act funds to build the fiber network, allowing for public-private partnerships to provide last-mile services, or connections to homes and businesses. The middle-mile infrastructure, which comes first, will create a minimum broadband capacity of 100 megabits citywide and is projected to be completed in 24 months, according to the city.

Brownsville in March won International Data Corporation’s (IDC) Government Insights’ Fifth Annual Smart Cities North America Awards for Digital Equity and Accessibility for its comprehensive planning efforts to increase broadband accessibility and speed. Mendez was awarded the “Change Maker” award by New Century Cities in December 2020 for his work to address the digital divide in Brownsville.