Tech Projects: Latest News

Supporting a thriving tech ecosystem across the Monterey Bay region

For the past few years, we’ve worked with members and partners to promote a thriving tech ecosystem in the region with meetups, co-working spaces, and access to education. We are now working with our members and partners to explore how we can facilitate high-speed broadband coverage throughout the region. Below is the latest news on some of the projects we are working on.

Affordable Internet Access is a Civil Rights Issue

If there’s one thing that distance learning has brought into sharp focus, it’s that the digital divide is both wide and deep, and it’s become a civil rights issue that can no longer be ignored.

When school campuses closed in March, more than 11,000 students in Monterey County’s schools and districts lacked the internet connections essential to continue distance learning, according to the Monterey County Office of Education (MCOE). Hardest hit were lower-income households, which were disproportionately represented in those numbers and compounded in many cases by the challenges created by working parents and limited English skills.
To temporarily bridge that gap, the Monterey County Office of Education partnered with Monterey Salinas Transit in deploying WiFi-equipped buses to school parking lots in Salinas and Greenfield, a YMCA in Soledad and the Salinas Valley Fairgrounds in King City so that students could access the internet from their family’s car.
The Central Coast Broadband Consortium has also compiled a listing of free public WiFi hotspots in the region. Among the access locations listed in Watsonville, Santa Cruz, Carmel, and other cities are public library parking lots, outdoor public benches and street parking near Cruzio in Santa Cruz, and more. 

The Digital Divide was a problem before coronavirus emerged, but now with schools shuttered, the lack of equal access to technology and the internet has become a civil rights issue, according to Monterey County Superintendent of Schools Dr. Deneen Guss. In addition to the households without internet access, more than 6,000 K-12 students also lacked access to devices such as laptops, computers, and tablets that would allow them to take part in virtual schooling. In many cases, students have neither devices nor the internet.

Locally, the MCOE stepped up to address the increased technology needs placed upon students by forming the Digital Equity Team.

In addition, private and nonprofit organizations such as Taylor Farms, the Monterey Peninsula Foundation, the Claire Giannini Fund, Sally Hughes Church Foundation, Tanimura Family Foundation, and other donors have stepped in to donate more than $3 million toward the purchase of devices, and Microsoft has donated 3335 devices. But even with numerous grants being pursued and additional state and federal resources, the efforts to attempt to close the digital divide amount to over $3 million. The task force estimates that it will still fall short of meeting the needs of Monterey County’s students. Those interested in donating to the Digital Equity Task Force’s efforts can contact Dr. Colleen Stanley at cstanley@montereycoe.org or 831-755-0308.

It’s a crisis being replicated in districts across the state, as students face the possibility of ever-increasing amounts of distance learning.

Last week, state Superintendent of Public Instruction Tony Thurmond announced that it would cost at least $500 million to close the gap so that all K-12 students in California have home computers and internet access. That breaks down to 600,000 computers and tablets, and 300,000 to 400,000 internet connections or hot spots to make that happen, and he called on companies, foundations, and individual donors to step up to help close the gap. Read more

“We need a lot more companies to step up,” Thurmond said. “We are going to have hundreds of thousands of students that don’t have a computing device. We will need California companies to come and support California kids.”

“We have had a digital divide in this state and this country for far too long, for decades — long before COVID-19,” he said. “I think COVID-19 had exposed us and our vulnerabilities as a state and as a nation and the need for us to do more to close the digital divide.” Read more

News courtesy of The Salinas Californian, Monterey Herald, and Monterey County Office of Education.