By Jacob Beltran
Former District 3 Councilwoman Leticia Ozuna made creating a broadband network of already laid fiber optic cables the primary focal point during her tenure, but recently expressed disappointment that the actual integration drags on.
Now, District 3 Councilwoman Rebecca Viagran who was elected in May, has shifted the district’s focus from the implementation of the network to listening to the district constituents, repairing infrastructure and improving communication between the office and District 3 residents.
While still in office last year, Ozuna drafted and wrote her own proposal, the San Antonio Area Broadband Network, or SAABN, which would “build a collaborative effort between the city and other governmental entities to expand fiber capability in San Antonio.”
During a Oct. 9 phone interview, Ozuna expressed disappointment with the lack of exposure SAABN is receiving.
“What are your expectations of government, when they’ve already paid for the infrastructure?” she asked during an interview, comparing it to the building of a superhighway system that isn’t being effectively used.
Between 1998 and 2001, after the fiber optic cables were laid into the ground, San Antonio attempted to set up the network in a different atmosphere.
“The major players in the field hadn’t yet figured out how they were going to set up their economic and subscription model, so they saw the opening of the public line as a threat,” Ozuna said.
The city had the idea to create an open subscription model, allowing institutions and business-related subscribers onto City Public Service owned lines. “That plan had lots of places where it just fell short, and directly into the line of fire with existing legislation,” she said.
The line of fire also included AT&T’s big move of its headquarters to San Antonio. But as the plan to open up CPS lines began to take shape, the legal challenges piled up and left a bad taste in CPS’ mouth, Ozuna said.
A decade later, institutions such as CPS and the City of San Antonio, are still reeling from that experience. “It’s almost like you need a generation shift to re-engage,” Ozuna said.
However, the Internet-access climate has changed as AT&T is targeting handheld devices as the future of its subscriber base, Ozuna said, leaving room for public-institutional partnerships to take part in the SAABN proposal.
“People are walking around with their cell phones saying, ‘I’m good,’ but when we have to take all your mammograms from one doctor’s office to the other or we want to stream content to a library: No, you’re not good,” Ozuna said firmly.
Currently, the only people working on SAABN are Hugh Miller, City of San Antonio’s chief technology officer, who is working on the draft agreements for the network alongside Gabriel Garcia, senior assistant city attorney.
“The challenge now is creating an entity that would manage the subscribers, participants and reinvestment cycles,” Ozuna said.
According to Wayne Wedemeyer, director of the office of telecommunications for the University of Texas System, the network operates by sharing the fiber optic cables, with each institution operating on its own wavelength. Wedemeyer also serves as chair of the board of directors of Greater Austin Area Telecommunications Network, or GAATN.
Because the institutions involved in SAABN will be tightly coupled with one another, Wedemeyer said cooperative procedures, management and operation of the network — such as documentation of the organizational framework — still need to be finalized for all participants.
Ozuna said despite the agreements that remain to be drafted, equipment purchases have been budgeted and are currently being acquired.
All that’s left is setting up SAABN, which Ozuna said should be governed by its own board and separate from CPS and the City of San Antonio.
She said the model should be similar to the GAATN because it’s independent and includes an organizational structure that includes a director, a board, technicians and support staff that operates on $2 million dollars per year, a budget completely created by the network.
Ozuna said the lines are up and have commitments to an equivalence of 50 networks that have been allocated. Currently, there are talks with the two public universities in the city, A&M-San Antonio and the University of Texas at San Antonio, to dedicate the strands to them.
“That’s what I want people to understand. We can easily accommodate the public universities in San Antonio,” she said. “That accommodation can feed this thing for years. I really want Harlandale to participate, SAISD to participate and save the $12 million over the years.”
Ozuna said the next step is to take into account all concerns offered by institutional partners when drafting the agreements.
“We payed for the most expensive part,” Ozuna said. “We have participants to fund the staff to keep it alive: Why on earth aren’t we doing this and moving the ball forward?”