T-Mobile and Small Town Unite to Provide Universal Broadband for All

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After 15 years, leaders in the small town of Gonzales, CA population 9,000, finally persevered in their quest to provide free universal broadband for all. In 2005, municipal officials started trying to work with service providers. As Zocalo reported, it was like “David taking on multiple Goliaths,” and it took until this year to meet their goal.

To advocate for broadband, the city joined the Central Coast Broadband Consortium in the early 2000s, and officials started regularly visiting the state’s Public Utilities Commission in San Francisco to press their case for rural broadband, according to Zocalo. Officials also advanced their position by filing legal protests against corporate mergers and acquisitions like the 2015 deal between Charter Communications and Time Warner, claiming the deal wouldn’t help small towns.

Beginning in 2017, Gonzales officials requested proposals from internet service providers (ISPs) to provide universal broadband for all and found a partner in T-Mobile. The “Un-carrier’s” services fit the town’s needs, including having a dense network of towers in the area and a program called EmpowerED to help students get online. 

In October 2019, the city council approved the partnership, and T-Mobile moved forward with upgrading wireless infrastructure. The carrier also donated 2,000 WiFi hotspots—one for every city household—equipped with speeds four times faster than required by the FCC that can support up to twelve different devices, reported Zocalo.

The city’s deal with T-Mobile is contracted for two years, with the option to renew. The city of Gonzales (not residents) bears costs for the monthly service charges to T-Mobile, at a discounted rate of $12.50 monthly per household device. The total annual cost to the Gonzales government is $300,000, which is covered by general fund revenues and a special ½-cent sales tax.

With success achieved in Gonzales, the city manager, René Mendez, is getting questions from other California towns about adopting universal broadband. “I think this is doable across the state,” Mendez says, particularly if cities aggressively seek out internet providers and make deals that mix new broadband investment with cost-sharing.

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