MBEP Member Spotlight: Cruzio: Building Essential Community Connections
Internet connection has never been more important, and Cruzio has worked throughout the COVID crisis, through wildfires and other challenges to ensure that communities remain connected.
To help students participate in distance learning last spring, Cruzio launched a program providing three months of free internet access to students who lacked reliable, fast internet, followed by low-cost service. In September, Cruzio partnered with Community Foundation Santa Cruz County, Santa Cruz County Office of Education, Pajaro Valley School District and other organizations to launch Equal Access Santa Cruz County, a community support campaign to help bridge the Digital Divide and support its Home Internet Access Program. So far, more than 50 families have been connected.
“Having Internet helped go to school and participate in the classes I’m in,” said Aptos Junior High School student Mahia. “I am able to do my homework and I don’t need to go out to look for free Internet. I was a bit scared when I had to park to get Internet to do my classwork.”
In partnership with Pajaro Valley Unified School District, Cruzio has also worked to build out wireless infrastructure at four district sites. Each of those four internet hubs can support about 150 new internet connections, which Cruzio’s James Hackett calls “the first tangible big win for the Equal Access Santa Cruz project.”
Reliable internet service is essential for more than just students, and it can be particularly important right now for vulnerable populations such as senior citizens.
“We’re building out that connectively and getting it to the families in need,” said Hackett, “and at the same time that we’re expanding the physical access, we’re talking to other groups to expand subsidized services.”
“The goal of equal access is to bridge the Digital Divide for everybody,” said Hackett, “and seniors are definitely impacted.”
Cruzio is working with the City of Santa Cruz Senior Services department and UC Santa Cruz Slug Support to identify individuals and households in need of subsidized internet service.
“Equal Access is really just an extension of the community values that we hold as a company,” said Hackett. “Our mission is to get affordable access to everyone in the county, and Equal Access is the latest part of that.”
That’s a mission to which Cruzio has been dedicated since 1989, in the era of pre-web internet, when Peggy Dolgenos and Chris Neklason launched the company out of their garage. Now one of the largest independent internet service providers in California, serving more than 9,000 businesses and households in Santa Cruz County. It’s still owned and operated by Dolgenos and Neklason, who remain committed to providing the infrastructure and technology to ensure Santa Cruz County’s designation as a tech hub and a connected community as it continues to build a high-speed fiber-wireless hybrid network.
“We’ve been there since the beginning, and we’ve always seen ourselves as connectors and facilitators,” said Hackett. “We’re constantly trying to expand and stay on the cutting edge of internet.”
Cruzio, a company in the business of connections, is intrinsically connected to the community it serves. And in a year where the region has been impacted in so many ways because of COVID-19, wildfires and more, Cruzio has offered relief to customers by waiving late fees and suspensions, and finding ways to step up for customers.
“If the community doesn’t succeed, we can’t succeed, so whatever we can do, the onus is on us to step up,” said Hackett. “We’ve seen this across the community, with businesses, individuals and organizations — MBEP included — stepping up. We’ve been lucky enough to be in a community that supports us and sees the value in a local ISPs, and that’s what makes the difference for us.”
Low-income families in our area are struggling and desperately need affordable internet, especially student and senior citizen households. To address this, Cruzio has partnered with Community Foundation Santa Cruz County, Santa Cruz Office of Education, Pajaro Valley Unified School District, and other local organizations, to form Equal Access Santa Cruz. Click here to help.