Delivering broadband internet to growing South Texas communities
Medina County, located near Microsoft’s San Antonio datacenter operations, lacked sufficient broadband internet coverage for its growing population. A coalition of local businesses and government agencies joined forces to expand internet availability to residents across Medina County.
Building on community partnerships for the greater good
In today’s connected world, reliable internet is critical to the wellbeing of a community. Despite rapid population growth, Medina County lacked sufficient broadband access. Adjacent Bexar County was able to support many broadband options due to a denser population of 2 million. Medina, by contrast, is a more rural region with a dispersed population of about 50,000. The county had very few broadband service options and many households lacked reliable internet altogether.
Several local organizations stepped in to bring broadband to Medina County. Microsoft joined forces with local broadband provider commZoom to expand wireless broadband access from commZoom’s existing network into unserved and underserved areas of Medina County. CEO of commZoom Bob Cohen recalls, “We had learned how much demand there is for high-speed internet in this region. And the demand for high-speed internet far surpassed the existing coverage.” commZoom offered the capacity to meet this demand, says Robert Sloan, Microsoft Talent, Workforce, and Community Development Program Manager. “In selecting commZoom to partner with us in this effort, we got a company with an outstanding reputation for local service in south Texas capable of delivering high speed data services to areas that had limited, if any, broadband options.” Primarily a wireline service provider, commZoom partnered with a wireless provider to ensure that the new customers outside commZoom’s existing network could access the same high level of service and maintenance availability as wireline customers.
Expanding internet access through joint investments
To help fund the design and deployment of broadband internet for Medina County residences, commZoom invested $450,000 and Local Microsoft donated $150,000. The project proceeded with input from local government and business leaders and in partnership with the GoMedina Economic Development Foundation, a public-private foundation dedicated to promoting economic growth in Medina County. GoMedina had targeted broadband availability as a key factor in the county’s economic development and the general wellbeing of its businesses and residents.
In planning for this project, Microsoft conducted a full-day workshop with four city mayors, five school district superintendents, a city manager, the county judge, and half a dozen prominent community business owners and operators to discuss and understand the broadband needs in Medina County. Discussing these needs, Medina County Judge Chris Schuchart, observed, “Medina County is located in one of the fastest growing areas in Texas and the United States. Much of the growth is coming to rural areas in need of fast and reliable broadband services. We are very happy that Microsoft has chosen our county to be a part of this program.”
Deploying wireless connectivity throughout Medina County
The joint initiative established service or boosted performance across Medina County’s broadband service gaps. According to commZoom, the Federal Communications Commission considers high-speed broadband to be nothing less than 25 Mbps download and three Mbps upload. Some of the population outside of commZoom’s wired reach did not have internet speeds that approached those baseline requirements.
This project involved the deployment and installation of extensions, wireless repeaters, and transceivers to expand internet coverage. To identify an initial target area, commZoom used their database of customers who had requested access but were unserviceable at the time. This information was overlaid onto a map of the area to draw correlations between the location of existing fiber trunks and the areas that had the most requests and the greatest population density. Finally, an algorithm was used to estimate sign-up rate based on pre-determined variables and historic performance.
To accomplish the goal of reaching as many residents as possible with fast, reliable service, commZoom reached out to engage some of its existing telecom infrastructure providers. CommScope and AFL donated equipment for some of the extensions and Medina Electric Co-op donated pole attachment permits and materials.
Planning for future population growth and infrastructure expansion
Fixed wireless broadband relies on line-of-sight signal transmission to deliver internet access. As an established company delivering high speed data, commZoom has access to public right of way that allows it to penetrate deeper into neighborhoods and other service areas, thereby putting access points much closer to the end user and maximizing impact. In the first round of implementation, nearly 1,400 homes had the option to subscribe to the new service. commZoom tracked and reported on new subscriptions received as a result of this project in order to evaluate the program’s impact.
The long-term plan is for commZoom to use new wireless systems to secure funds through broadband subscriptions to later build out physical extensions where possible, and then repurpose the wireless equipment in other areas to expand even further—making broadband available to as many unserved households as possible. With continued community partnerships and investments, commZoom will be well supported in their efforts.
“We are very happy that Microsoft has chosen our county to be a part of this program.”—Chris Schuchart, Medina County Judge