2. A Tale of Two Internets
3. Connecting Another Farmworker Community
4. Check Out the Cruzio Building in the 1990s
6. Donate to the Food Bank, We’ll Match!
7. Help Us Expand, Get Free Internet
8. Help Us Expand, Get Free Internet
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.
By Peggy Dolgenos and Susan True
An internet service provider, a school district, and a community foundation walked into a zoom room…
What sounds like the beginning of a boring COVID-era joke is actually the true story of an extraordinary cross-sector partnership of industry, philanthropy, and education that has brought internet access to hundreds of families in the Pajaro Valley through Equal Access Santa Cruz County (EASC).
The Problem to Tackle
Among the persistent inequities that became glaringly visible at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the lack of internet access threatened to put students, who already face obstacles to their education, even further behind during distance learning. Although students were equipped with Chromebooks and hotspots, internet connections were spotty and unreliable. Many were missing class sessions, unable to access online homework, and unable to communicate with their teachers.
In order to start bridging the local digital divide, we had to address the core issues—a lack of internet infrastructure in many parts of the County, especially the Pajaro Valley, and families being unable to afford the monthly internet bill.
Problem-solving the technology was fairly uncomplicated for a company like Cruzio. But they needed a philanthropic partner to help raise funds, and act as a place where donors’ gifts could be entrusted and stewarded. With four decades of experience bringing together people, ideas, and resources to tackle the most pressing problems in our community, the Community Foundation was a natural and eager partner.
Cruzio’s high-speed fixed wireless internet distribution sites (Point of Presences or POPs) can be built quickly and at a fraction of the cost of fiber. The Cruzio team installed POPs on PVUSD school buildings, with each site capable of serving 150 or more users. And free or heavily subsidized service was made possible through gifts to the Community Foundation’s EASC fund, bridging the affordability gap.
The Community Comes Through
When we bring the community together, we get things done. Donations came from groups like the Rotary Club of Watsonville, local companies–including a major grant from Driscoll’s and another from Reiter Affiliated Companies, and many generous individuals. Your donations to EASC have made a meaningful difference in the lives of hundreds of students and families.
Mahia Aguilar, a Aptos Junior High student, told us that thanks to EASC, she didn’t need to go out to the park looking for free internet. A single mom whose child attended the distance learning support program at the Farm Discovery Center (where we connected high speed broadband) told us that she was able to go back to work to help feed her family.
Equal Access Santa Cruz County By the Numbers
This is what your generosity helped accomplish.
The internet is an essential educational tool whether students are in digital classrooms or back on campus. They need it to access assignments, for research, and to stay on top of work during absences, which during this time of COVID are many, as students face exposure and climbing cases.
Phase 1 of Equal Access exceeded our expectations. In the next phase, new internet sites are already planned as we continue our partnership with PVUSD, add coverage in Live Oak, and collaborate with Pajaro Valley Shelter Services. We’re developing a new partnership with Santa Cruz Housing Authority and other affordable housing developers to bring gigabit-speed internet to hundreds more families across the county.
You can help support the work ahead by giving to the EASC Fund. Together, we will close the digital divide in Santa Cruz County.
About the Authors
Peggy Dolgenos is the CEO of Cruzio.
Susan True is the CEO of Community Foundation Santa Cruz County.
More stories about EASC impact:
Video: Bridging the Digital Divide
Lack of internet in rural areas is an enormous problem, affecting people all over the USA — even in large parts of tech-savvy California. And despite Santa Cruz County’s part in bringing about the internet we know today, some parts of our county lack decent internet too.
As alert newsletter readers know, Cruzio has been sounding the alarm about inequality of internet access for many years. Then, earlier this year, the issue hit home in a devastating way. Some of the copper lines Cruzio leased from AT&T had degraded so much that we could no longer provide reliable service to a small number of our more rural customers. That left a few dozen customers in a bind. Their service wasn’t good, sure, but what else could they do?
The rural residents didn’t take the situation lying down. Many had been through tough times already last year, when fires destroyed so much of their community. They’d had to deal with rebuilding and many other challenges. And here was another: internet. We were disturbed that options were fewer than we’d imagined for some folks, and kept searching for answers.
Bonny Doon residents Phil McManus and Jodi Frediani got super-involved. They appeared with us on a KSQD radio show. We accompanied them to meetings and made public appeals to local elected officials. After so many years of no action, we were worried that folks would be left without options. But the Dooners got the attention of Representative Anna Eshoo, and that was key.
Anna Eshoo is co-chair of the Congressional Internet Caucus and a Member of the Subcommittee on Communications and Technology in the House of Representatives. That means she is an important political figure in the telecommunications world.
When Eshoo heard of from the activists, she, in turn, took action. She arranged calls with AT&T executives who could actually make a change to the situation — something Cruzio had never been able to do. AT&T did not, unfortunately, promise repairs which would allow us to keep the customers, or provide better service or lower prices. But they did prevent the Bonny Doon folks from losing internet access altogether. AT&T had been refusing to sell DSL service to people (or to Cruzio) in those areas for years. But now they made an exception. They offered to take on a dozen former Cruzio customers — the folks who’d appeared on the radio. along with their neighbors.
But Cruzio knew of several households in other parts of the county who were in the same boat. We insisted they get the same treatment as those who’d spoken up. In the end, despite protests from AT&T, everyone who we knew was left out in the cold was transferred to AT&T service.
So the story has an ending that’s not exactly happy, but not a disaster, thanks to the efforts of the good folks in Bonny Doon… and to Anna Eshoo, along with Jimmy Panetta, Mark Stone and Ryan Coonerty, who sent a joint formal request to AT&T. Special mention to the staffs: Patty Kim and Asad Ramzanali from Eshoo’s office, Mark Denning from Panetta’s office, and Maureen McCarty who works for Mark Stone — we know staff members often do a lot of the behind-the-scenes work and we want to call out their contributions. They answered our calls, looked for solutions, and helped the elected officials with all the details.
The moral of the story: ignoring telecommunications regulation is perilous. The change in the last few decades away from a public utility model, with universal service and regulated price requirements, has resulted in a free-market free-for-all. Subsidies and grants meant to equalize access are often manipulated by the largest telecom providers to pay for existing, inadequate infrastructure. Rural and low-income areas are starved. Inequality increases.
The new subsidies promised in federal infrastructure bills are still on the drawing board. We hope that Congress does a better job of making long-term improvements to needy areas this time around.
And we’ve had some victories at the state level, thought details are still pending.
“If you live in California, now is the time to talk to your mayor and city council about your future broadband needs. Now is the time to talk to your local small businesses about the future the state has enabled if they need to improve their broadband connectivity. Now is the time to talk to your school district about what they can do to improve community infrastructure for local students. Maybe you yourself have the will and desire to build your own local broadband network through this law.”
Don’t continue the mistake of using government grants to be determined by current assumptions. We saw in the pandemic that current infrastructure isn’t adequate to the work-from-home school-from-home world that’s going to persist into the next decade. We have to build for a future that makes it possible for everyone to share in that new paradigm.
And please know that every time you tell Cruzio you want better internet access, we are logging your query. We are sharing areas of the county that need better infrastructure with public works departments and public advocacy groups. Stay involved and help us get better, more equitable access to Santa Cruz County the Central Coast. Anna Eshoo and the Bonny Doon activists let us know we can really have an effect.
Have you ever glanced at the backstory of what, until this year, was called Louden Nelson Center? If so, you know the man for whom the center was named — or rather, misnamed — in 1979 was London, not Louden, Nelson.After many decades, the Santa Cruz City Council finally voted to correct the error.
Why did the misspelling persist for so long? The man and the mistake are threaded through our local history.
An early hero of the City of Santa Cruz, London Nelson is memorialized by the eponymous building and several plaques around town, hailed as friend to education. He was a slave included in an expedition from Tennessee to Northern California in search of gold in 1850 — when California was filled with fortune-seekers, many of whom kept their slaves despite the establishment of California that year as a free state.
Nelson’s group found gold, and London Nelson used his share to buy his freedom in 1854.
Ill health — and perhaps good sense — kept him from returning to Tennessee. Instead, now in his 50s, he moved from the Sacramento area to Santa Cruz — another sensible choice — and lived here for the rest of his life. Nelson never married here (we know nothing of his previous life in Tennessee). He was popular with his neighbors, selling vegetables and repairing shoes from his garden plot by the San Lorenzo River, behind the current post office. It’s said that he enjoyed watching local children trek past his house to their school up on Mission Hill. Uneducated himself, he valued the school, and when the it closed for lack of funds he was determined to help.
Nelson had no nearby heirs. When he died in 1860, he bequeathed his property to the school district, signing his will with an X. Eventually his small farm was sold, the proceeds going to the construction of a beautiful new schoolhouse on Mission Hill (long gone now). His was one of the first graves in Evergreen Cemetery, and for many years schoolchildren made an annual pilgrimage to tend the grave.
What happened in the decades and centuries following London Nelson’s death is a picture of a conflicted society. Nelson had been one of only two Black residents of Santa Cruz. Santa Cruz was a stronghold of abolitionism before and during the Civil War, according to historian Geoffrey Dunn, and didn’t hesitate to honor a Black man. He was beloved while he lived and celebrated after his death. At the same time, he was the subject of sometime virulently racist news articles and his name was misspelled, his legacy muddled.
Georffrey Dunn has also written a more recent description of London Nelson and the effort to correct his name in The Good TImes.
Spelling a name properly is a sign of respect, so the correction is important.
Cruzio has a long history with the Center. We have donated internet to the building for nearly 30 years and have worked closely with the Senior Center housed there. We signed the petition demanding the name change and we’re happy to see recognition returned to a good-hearted man who helped our community long ago. Many thanks to Brittnii Potter who started the petition and to the City Council for finally making the correction. And do read the Geoffrey Dunn article from 2016 for more details! It’s an article abut Jeneteenth but the second half goes into London Nelson.
Note from Cruzio’s CEO
Recap: on March 17th, 2020, Cruzio sent employees home and closed our coworking doors to all but essential workers. Those among us who were pessimistic spoke darkly of months of closure. Even the most negative didn’t foresee over a year of distancing, masks, and lost shops and restaurants.
Internet is an essential business, so Cruzio stayed mostly open while taking many safety measures. Our onsite technicians followed a strict set of protocols when working at people’s homes and offices. We expanded our Equal Access Santa Cruz (EASC) program to get internet to hard-to-reach places around the Central Coast, with added urgency as we saw schoolkids having trouble participating in their suddenly online classes. We were able to extend internet to low income housing and migrant farm camps and, with our community’s help, we’ve made a difference to many families — and more each month.
Cruzioworks, our coworking space, protected members and staff by keeping occupancy to a minimum, putting strong HEPA filters on our air conditioning units, and sanitizing obsessively. We put tables and chairs outside so folks could meet in the fresh air — an amenity so pleasant we’ll keep it in the future. Our onsite cafe closed — for a few weeks, then a month, then indefinitely. We’re still waiting for it to open, it’s the best little cafe in town. Our busy meeting rooms were limited to just a few occupants at a time.
Our neighbors in the building, the cheerful folks from Ecology Action, went home to work as well. The building has felt kind of empty. Not completely shut down but quieter and darker.
Last August/September, as fires raced down the Santa Cruz Mountains, several Cruzio employees were forced from their homes. We put a few up in the office. Colleagues lent air mattresses and they camped out, waiting for days for the signal to go back home. A long-time coworker’s house burned to the ground. The air itself choked us. Those days were shocking and sad.
Like so many people and businesses, as the pandemic months stretched on our daily lives changed radically.
And now we’re out of those worst times (really, the fire was the worst, right?) but we’re in a a sort of limbo.
Last month, a change back to normal seemed hopeful. Mask ordinances lifted. We scrubbed off the social distancing stickers on our floor and stopped locking our front door during business hours. We started planning a marketing campaign: “Reboot.” The idea, and what we talk about every day: how can we help to revive the Santa Cruz County economy with faster internet, price breaks, and expanded service? We’d like to see the shopping streets busy and lively again. We want to help.
But as the Delta variant pushes up the number infected, it’s clear we still need to be careful. Shops and theaters need to keep things slowed down a bit.
Internet work’s not slowing, of course. In fact quite the opposite. We’re hard at work getting things to go faster. It’s an inverse proportion: the more people can’t go out, the more internet they need. Closed theaters means more Netflix. Working from home means more Zoom. So we’re busy.
In the next few months I hope I’ll be able to send the “reboot” message we were planning for this month. Fingers crossed. Stay well!
For Farm Discovery–a nonprofit that connects our community’s youth to a deeper understanding of agriculture, food, and the environment–2020 was set to be their biggest season yet. They expected to have 3,000 kids at their Live Earth Farm in Pajaro Valley that year between school field trips and their youth camp programs where kids learn farming skills, nutritional skills, and environmental stewardship and how these are delicately intertwined. Then, COVID hit.
Farm Discovery Reorganizes During Pandemic
Farm Discovery, who generally hires from their local community and often hires alums of their programs, committed to keeping all of their employees and acquired PPP funding to make sure they could keep everyone on staff. Next, they developed a program with the food bank delivering the excess from their harvests to get food to those most at risk during the pandemic. Later in the pandemic, when we had all learned more about how to stay safe with masks, social distancing and limiting interaction to the outdoors, the Farm turned to helping students again.
Turning the Kitchen into a Schoolhouse
“Kids were getting desperate to be together again. We saw this great need for care – something for kids to do and low-risk their parents could leave them to learn,” says Jessica Ridgeway, Executive Director of Farm Discovery. Jessica and her team remodeled their summer program making it possible for kids to be together and make friends while staying in a small, safe pod.
When the school year started up again, Farm Discovery began a distance learning support program and their kitchen became a schoolhouse. Three days a week, 14 kids came to school at Live Earth Farm so their parents could go to work. Jessica recounts one parent repeatedly telling them that they had saved her life because she’s a single mom, had to work, and couldn’t help her child school from home.
There was a considerable problem though–a lack of an adequate internet connection at the Farm. Like many rural places in our county, internet access is a persistent issue and one more glaringly pronounced as we had to school and work from home during the pandemic. Jessica herself lives remotely and she worried about the students’ ability to participate in their classes: “It’s so frustrating and it just adds one more barrier to learning to have their teacher pausing, and connection drops can really distract the students. Connection can really impact how to engage kids.”
Bringing Internet Access to Farm Discovery
That’s when Driscoll’s stepped in with funding for infrastructure and connected Farm Discovery with Cruzio Internet and the Equal Access Santa Cruz County program. A significant portion of Driscoll’s charitable giving has been dedicated to fostering a safe, healthy, and stimulating environment for children and young adults in the communities where they live and grow. In 2020 alone, they deployed $4M in COVID-relief funds across their growing communities around the world to help alleviate some of the community’s biggest challenges during the pandemic.
Driscoll’s recognized that the County’s challenges evolved beyond food security to educational equity as seen in the Pajaro Valley. “In addition to reliable internet access, we were seeing that there was an urgent need for kids to have a safe space to convene and receive in-person learning support which is why we partnered with Cruzio and Farm Discovery. We were happy to see that the children who needed in-person distance learning support the most were able to receive that and more at Farm Discovery during one of the most difficult times,” said Nishan Moutafian, Driscoll’s Northern California District Manager.
“We’re delighted to partner with Driscoll’s to improve internet connectivity at Farm Discovery”, says James Hackett, Cruzio’s Director of Business Development. “As a local internet service provider, Cruzio has a unique perspective on the needs of our community and the ability to build out sustainable internet infrastructure for those who need it most. But partnerships are essential to do the work and that’s why we are so grateful to Driscoll’s for their support.” Equal Access Santa Cruz is a partnership between Cruzio Internet and Community Foundation Santa Cruz County along with many other community partners to bridge the digital divide in Santa Cruz County and bring internet to unconnected residents and better infrastructure in underserved areas. “The internet was really bad out here. The connection never met the need. Once we got funding from Driscoll’s and connected to Cruzio, it only took about 2 months from start to end. It’s amazing it could happen so quickly after being a problem for so long,” said Jessica.
As soon as we knew about it, making sure Farm Discovery got connected was a priority for us at Cruzio. Not only is our Equal Access Santa Cruz program aimed at helping students and closing the digital divide, we also deeply respected Farm Discovery’s response to the pandemic which mirrored our own. They kept employees in their jobs, turned to our community to provide immediate assistance, and restructured in a time of crisis to be there for the community through the long haul of the pandemic and beyond.
Looking back and what’s next
Reflecting on the pandemic and the things everyone did to come together, Jessica says, “People really dropped everything to get stuff done. We sometimes get so bogged down in the red tape of things, but we made things work to support people.” At Cruzio we agree. The pandemic brought a huge shift in how we work and opened up the possibility of community effort to make necessities–like internet access and programs for students and families–possible. We’re making huge improvements in ways that were never possible before.
It’s still touch and go what the remainder of this year will look like for Farm Discovery while schools figure out how to coordinate students and if field trips will be possible in the new school year. But overall, things are looking up and Farm Discovery has great plans for the next year such as hiring more local teens and staff and making their programs bigger. Jessica thanks a generous community that has been supportive throughout the pandemic for making this possible.
Santa Cruz County is in the yellow tier, the California economy is set to open up June 15th, and the Downtown community is rebuilding itself after over a year of staying home! We’ve been here throughout the pandemic to support however we can and we want to be here for everyone now as Downtown opens back up.
We’re offering a Downtown promotion to help out. If you’re a business opening your doors, we want to help lower your reopening costs so you can focus on welcoming back your customers. Sign up for Santa Cruz Fiber and enjoy the first three months completely free. See if Fiber is available for you here.
If you’re a freelancer, or remote worker ready to ditch the kitchen table and get back out into a more collaborative workspace, we want to make your entry to coworking – or your return to coworking – as easy as possible. Sign up for a Cruzioworks coworking membership and don’t pay anything for the first 3 months. We expect coworking to make a huge comeback post-shutdown so be sure to claim your spot before we fill up!
These promotions will last through September 1st, 2021. Give us call at (831)459-6301×1 or contact us at Cruzio.com/contact and we’ll get you started.
Happy reopening and welcome back!
What is the Emergency Broadband Benefit?
The Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) program is a Federal Communications Commission (FCC) program that provides a temporary discount on monthly broadband bills for qualifying low-income households.
What discount is available on Cruzio services?
Eligible households can receive up to a $50/month discount on your broadband service and associated equipment rentals
Who is eligible?
To find out if you’re eligible, go to https://getemergencybroadband.org/ and click ‘Apply Now’.
Can I qualify directly through Cruzio’s Equal Access program?
No, you cannot qualify for EBB simply by being eligible for EASC subsidies, you need to apply separately.
How long does the discount last?
The program is temporary in nature. The program will end when the fund runs out of money, or six months after the Department of Health and Human Services declares an end to the COVID-19 health emergency, whichever is sooner.
What happens when it runs out?
Subscribing households will be subject to Cruzio’s undiscounted rates and general terms and conditions at the end of the program if they continue to receive service.
If I sign up with Cruzio, can I only ever apply my EBB to Cruzio services?
No, you may transfer their EBB Program benefit to another provider at any time.