HARLINGEN, Texas (ValleyCentral) – The city of Harlingen is looking to close the digital divide impacting residents.

On Oct. 20 city commissioners approved a contract that will start a feasibility study that provides broadband access to households.

In the 2019 Census American Community Survey, nearly 8,000 Harlingen residents reported they had no access to the internet. City Manager Gabriel Gonzalez said the city has issued a contract with Houston-based company Conn Fendley. The company will conduct a study for the city on how it can provide residents with broadband.

“What they are going to do is look at what’s available out there right now as far as infrastructure and come up with a plan for the city on how to offer broadband for ourselves to the community,” Gonzalez said.

Gonzalez says more broadband access has been a major need for the city, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“What brought this to our attention was of course the pandemic,” Gonzalez said. ” When the school district had to go to virtual learning, we found out that there were students and some families that did not have access to internet.”

The feasibility study will $100,000. The money will be coming from both the City of Harlingen and Harlingen CISD.

HCISD Networking Coordinator Jaime Reyes said 6% of the student population is still in need of internet access. But at the start of the pandemic, the number of students need broadband access was up to 10%, which caused some challenges when learning from home.

“You know we realized we had to take the internet to them they couldn’t come to our classrooms,” Reyes said. “So we had to take the classroom to them, and we developed a multi-approach to find a solution to bring that connectivity for them.”

But while the school district was able to pinpoint areas in the city that were in need of internet, Reyes said HCISD did not have access to all of those areas.

“So, reaching out to the city to help them we had the data, let’s come up with a plan to see where we take it from there,” Reyes said.

And as the feasibility prepares to get underway, the City of Harlingen hopes it can be able to provide broadband access to all of its residents soon.

“My hope is for us to actually own, to have fiber in the ground that we own so we wouldn’t have to rent it from anybody else anymore,” Gonzalez said. “We can have that to all of our facilities to all of our schools in town so that would be ideal.”