Equal Access Santa Cruz is taking its model for closing the digital divide through community partnership and community engagement to new areas of need. Equal Access Monterey Bay is a new partnership between Cruzio Internet, Monterey Bay Economic Partnership, the Central Coast Broadband Consortium. Its first project is to bring reliable wireless internet to the San Jerardo housing cooperative located just outside of Salinas.
Thanks to a grant from the California Public Utilities Commission (CPUC), Cruzio Internet has been awarded $292,548 to build the infrastructure needed to connect every home in the cooperative. Equal Access Monterey Bay hopes to raise another $200,000 to provide the service completely free to residents for the next 5 years.
The San Jerardo housing cooperative was built by farmworkers in the 1970s. The site was an abandoned labor barracks, which the farmworker families first used as a squatting camp then purchased and transformed.
These families and workers face innumerable challenges. Many members of the community are low income and recently the situation has been even harder as the co-op has faced great difficulties and increased costs related to their water supply. Like many low-income and rural communities across the nation, they also struggle with access to an important resource: a reliable and affordable internet connection.
Addressing the need for real, affordable broadband at San Jerardo would be of immense value to the San Jerardo Cooperative residents who, like the farmworker community as a whole, are struggling.
According to the LA Times, “farmworkers in the state earn about $30,000 a year if they work full time — about half the overall average pay in California. Most work fewer hours.” In fact, the most recent U.S. Department of Labor National Agricultural Workers Survey (NAWS), the average total income of farmworkers is between $15,000 – $17,499 a year for individuals and $20,000 – $24,999 for a family, far below the median income in Monterey County which was $71,015 in 2019.
General manager Horacio Amezquita’s family members are original co-op members and he is intimately familiar with the challenges the community faces.
“The community of San Jerardo is a farmworkers housing Cooperative that needs affordable and reliable internet access. Students here do not have a reliable internet connection and are not able to stay connected in their school classes. Many families in the community can not afford to pay for a reliable internet service. Communities like San Jerardo need to have affordable and reliable internet access for the well-being of present and future generations.”
— Horacio Amezquita, General Manager, San Jerardo Cooperative
In October our team made a trip out to San Jerardo to survey the site and start making plans for the infrastructure build. Once complete, this project will bring internet directly to the units of 250 permanent residents and 100 seasonal residents, making a huge difference in their day-to-day lives and access to resources.
To help support this project go to Community Foundation for Monterey County.