Hidalgo County moves forward on $18M Wi-Fi project

Hidalgo County is making strides to provide internet access to students in densely populated areas.

The project has been in the works since April, and it will be funded through federal virus relief money.

“We read the restrictions on what the money could be used for, and one of the things that jumped out at us is that we could use it for distance learning,” Precinct 2 Commissioner Eddie Cantu said. “This was back in April when we didn’t know if distance learning was going to be necessary or not, but we wanted to get something ready to go in case distance learning or virtual learning was necessary in the fall, or ever again. It’s not just for now; it can be used in the future.”

Cantu said that the county reached out to school districts in order to assess which areas are in greater need for internet access.

School districts were able to provide information about areas that were in need of access, while also being among the most densely populated areas in their respective districts.

“We worked with the school districts and understood their needs. We made sure that all of the precincts were represented,” Cantu said.

The county plans to set up towers sporadically throughout the precincts which will send internet access to street lights in the selected areas, which are owned by American Electric Power or Magic Valley Electric Cooperative.

On Tuesday, the Hidalgo County Commissioners Court approved a contract with the two companies to use their poles, related accessories, supplies and their electricity at the expense of $500,000 to AEP and $500,000 to MVEC.

In total, the project will cost as much as $18 million, all of which is funded through the relief money.

Cantu said that they plan to begin providing Wi-Fi by November.

“The school districts are doing a good job of passing out MiFi. It’s like the size of a cellphone, and it gives each household access to internet,” Cantu said. “The good thing about what we’re doing is that not only can the students get on (the internet), from high school to the lower levels, but also college kids can jump on. Parents can jump on if they need to access their work or they need to apply for a job. It’s pretty much open.”