You may have heard the Cruzio Internet recently won grants to build high-speed broadband to low income communities in Santa Cruz and Monterey Counties. This is the result of a determined, long-term effort by Cruzio and our partners — educators and philanthropists — to get internet where it’s most needed.
Funding for internet infrastructure has been lacking for many years
Solving the digital divide is complicated. You can’t deliver internet without a physical network, which is expensive and time-consuming to build. Parts of Cruzio’s service area are rural or low income, and free market forces just haven’t compelled construction to those places.
Several years ago, Cruzio turned our frustration with the digital divide into energy towards a solution. We set up our Equal Access program to build long-needed infrastructure.
We looked at public funding for internet, But till now, government programs promising better internet have generally been waylaid by big corporate ISPs. The programs just dumped money into existing networks (cough! shareholders’s pockets), perhaps helping to pay a family’s bills in the short term but doing nothing to improve available connectivity.
To the contrary: often, public funds helped sustain the status quo, not improve it.
The digital gap was widening
Due to a lack of investment, large parts of our region have been limited to infrastructure that can only carry 6 megabits per second, while cities like Los Angeles and San Francisco, where there’s a lot of competition from independent ISPs, often have access to gigabit or even multi-gigabit connections. That means an urban internet user in a prosperous neighborhood often has access to a connection that is dozens of times better than a low-income or rural user. Sometimes over a hundred times better. And the divide is growing.
Cruzio looked for a way to actually build to unserved areas, and what we could not find in public funding we found in community partnerships.
Local philanthropists stepped in
Because schoolchildren are one of the most important groups to be served by internet — they need it to keep up with classwork — from the beginning we found common ground with the Santa Cruz County Office of Education and other educators around our service area. Together we worked on establishing better internet opportunities for low income families.
We applied for grants, but at first there wasn’t much money available. We’re lucky that our local community took notice. The Community Foundation of Santa Cruz County connected us to needed funds. Private donations from Driscolls, the Watsonville Rotary, and some anonymous contributors joined our own contributions to put hundreds of families online, and will for years to come.
Cruzio members, always the best sorts of people in our unbiased opinion, have also been contributing. We love it when you pay a little extra on your monthly bill as a donation. Here’s how to sign up to support internet for a student who needs it.
Lately, government funding has become available
Private donations were, and will always be, vital to support internet equity. But finally, government money is available and our Equal Access program, already in full swing, has been able to win two grants — one from Santa Cruz County and one from Monterey County.
Because we are experienced network builders and know our area so well, we were able to present compelling proposals for fast, economical improvements in internet availability. And we’re quickly fulfilling our promises.. The ink was barely dry on the Santa Cruz County grant when we set up the first three new hubs in the Watsonville area. Four more are in the works right now, in Live Oak. And we are surveying for more in other parts of the county. People really need better internet right now, so we will use up the funds very quickly!
Cruzio’s putting all those funds to work
We’re working right now on four sites in northern Monterey County which should be operational this summer. Each site serves dozens of buildings, sometimes translating to hundreds of people. As in Santa Cruz, all those folks will have access to our standard quality internet (which is quite good internet) at $15/mo.
Many thanks to Santa Cruz County Supervisors Koenig, Coonerty, Friend, and McPherson, and to the Monterey County IT Department — especially Alex Zheng and Eric Chatham — and Monterey Bay Economic Partnership, thanks Freny Cooper! We’ll do you all proud.
More details about this project in this Santa Cruz Local article.