By Carly Wipf
For many, pressures to work and go to school remotely during the coronavirus pandemic has compounded the digital divide in Silicon Valley. A new plan, announced Monday by Mayor Sam Liccardo and AT&T, will bring K-12 students and low-income households without an internet connection to 11,000 hotspots for wireless internet and 4G LTE data plans.
“It is important that we move forward together to take care of our children. Regardless of where they live, they must have access to wonderful free education and not worry about going online and finding the tools they need . ” Councilor Pam Foley said.
At the beginning of the 2020-2021 school year, 3,000 hotspots are available in the public library for a 90-day checkout. Those who have to wait longer can receive a one-time extension of the checkout for a further 30 days.
The County Office of Education will work directly with the San Jose Unified School District to provide the remaining 8,000 hotspots for students. Because the free high-speed Internet and data plans can connect up to 15 devices, the plan can benefit households with multiple students and individuals who need up to a year of home Internet access. The city has identified families who have been qualifying since last spring, but others interested in the program should contact their local school district.
“This opens up a world of possibilities, certainly for the child who needs to study online, but also for the parent who is looking for a job or perhaps looking for health care information online,” Liccardo said. “And in all other ways we are crucially dependent on the broadband connection. So I am very grateful that all of our partners have come together in this way.”
The hotspot program grew out of the COVID-19 digital integration spending plan that was unanimously approved by San Jose leaders last month. In addition to free hotspots and data plans, the program will provide student computing devices and improve community Internet access in the East Side Union High School District and other libraries, community centers, and parks, according to Jill Bourne, director of the city library, who led the initiative.
“Access to the Internet and to a device is a social justice issue,” said Councilor Magdalena Carrasco. According to Carrasco, the pandemic was particularly devastating for children who are at an educational disadvantage due to the digital divide.
“This partnership is vital for so many families who do not have access to the tools necessary to complete distance learning. We have seen COVID-19 particularly cruel to families living in underinvested districts like this one I represent, “said Carrasco.
According to a 2017 city report, 30 percent of San Jose students who lacked internet access at home named school as the primary location for doing their homework. This leaves them with few other options when schools are closed. The same report found that black and Latin American families are more likely to lack internet services than other groups.
Data from the American Community Survey shows that more than 100,000 San Jose residents had no broadband internet subscription as of 2019.
The city invested $ 8.2 million in expanding digital services as part of its digital inclusion spending plan. Around $ 3.5 million went to the hotspot partnership with AT&T. Funding comes from the city’s Coronavirus Relief Fund, the Digital Inclusion Fund, which works with community organizations and government grants.
The plan has a broader goal of providing 50,000 San Jose homes with full broadband access within the next 10 years.
“This school year, Internet access will be critical to attendance and education,” said Mary Ann Dewan, superintendent of Santa Clara County Schools. “New requirements ensure that the daily live interaction between students, teachers and peers takes place. And like water and electricity, Internet access via WLAN is an essential tool. Providing fair Internet access not only supports learning, but also promotes access on services and opportunities for health, wellness and safety. “
Contact Carly Wipf at [email protected] or follow @CarlyChristineW on Twitter.
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