Pilot project bringing free internet to South Pharr

PHARR — Fifty residents are set to receive digital services this month with the launch of a pilot project called Pharr Life Net that will bring free internet to selected families on the south side of town.

The project, announced at a news conference Friday, is a collaboration among public entities such the city of Pharr, the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo school district and the Federal Reserve Bank of Dallas, and private entities like BBVA Compass bank, which was an early supporter of this collaborative initiative.

The Dallas-based Fed worked with the city and school district for about six-and-a-half months to conduct research, planning and execution of the service for those who can’t afford access to broadband internet. The pilot program is being launched in the Dicker Road/Thomas Road area.

“The residents were chosen based on the need and vulnerability,” said Dr. Ambrosio Hernandez, Pharr mayor.

The project stems from a larger initiative, the Digital Opportunity for the Rio Grande Valley, that was formed after a 2015 report from the Dallas Federal Reserve about Texas colonias identified a common challenge — residents’ lack of access to the internet. The report found that the digital divide left residents at a disadvantage to access regional labor market opportunities, and identified challenges colonia students face in school because of their “inability to complete homework assignments due to lack of internet service and computers at home.”

By having access to the internet, PSJA students in the program will have network capability to interact in new educational programs, representatives said.

“This gives more confidence to the students in doing assignments at home for school,” Hernandez added. “It’s a step in the right direction.”

An additional 250 homes will receive broadband internet in the coming months through the Pharr Life system.

The service, administered through the City of Pharr Innovation & Technology department, is part of the city’s ongoing efforts to offer free wifi in and around city buildings, and to offer internet access to resident at little to no direct cost.

“Pharr took the lead to develop strategic solutions to connect residents and families with the critical infrastructure necessary to access, navigate and succeed in today’s online world,” Hernandez said. “Through this pilot project, we are laying the technology, infrastructure, and network capabilities to make Pharr competitive and innovative, and we are confident that this pilot project will make a case for future funding and expansion to further serve and connect our community.”