Plan approved to increase Internet access for rural residents

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Santa Cruz County will soon use a $500,000 grant to install 20 new antennas across the county, plan officials say, which will boost broadband internet signals for thousands of people living in rural areas, especially low income families.

The money comes from the county’s share of the American Rescue Plan Act, the $1.9 trillion economic stimulus bill signed into law by President Joe Biden last year. Those funds will be matched up to 150% by Santa Cruz-based Cruzio Internet, county spokesman Jason Hoppin said.

Funding will be used to increase Equal Access Program Santa Cruz de Cruziowhich provided access to affordable housing developments and low-income neighborhoods throughout the county.

These services have been invaluable to students, who increasingly depend on Internet access for their courses. This need has increased exponentially during the remote learning caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

More than 700 students have access to high-speed internet through the Equal Access program, Hoppin said. Once implemented, which County Internet Services Manager Tony Batalla says will take a year, 4,000 more homes will have high-speed Internet access.

The program currently has branches in 13 locations, each of which serves approximately 200 households. Participants pay $15 a month for their own antenna to receive the signals, he said.

“It was a great program,” Batalla said.

County officials are evaluating 34 sites throughout the county for rooftop antennas, including Santa Cruz, Live Oak School District, Pajaro Valley Unified School District, and the San Lorenzo Valley and Mountains of Santa Cruz. Also being considered are 14 businesses and apartment buildings in Aptos, Soquel, Davenport and Watsonville.

It is not yet known where the antennas will be placed. Such an arrangement requires landlord approval and then installation, with some sites more ready than others, Batalla said.

Supervisor Bruce McPherson called the program “very critical” for areas of the county that have suffered from a shortage of internet service.

“It’s been a big priority for us for a long time, especially in my Fifth District, given the mountainous areas and the terrain,” he said.

The article carried 4-1, with supervisor Greg Caput dissenting.

Caput, whose South County 4th District would be one of the biggest beneficiaries of the expansion, said he was skeptical of the deleterious health effects of wireless signals and the speed at which the program is growing. will take place.

In making the statement, Caput said he was “sympathetic” to the protests from community members, especially Marilyn Garrett who for years spoke at numerous public meetings on the subject.

the Food and drug administration said there is no evidence that the signals cause any negative health effects.

“I think it’s too fast,” Caput said. “I really think in the years to come there will probably be health issues and things like that that are related to high-speed internet.”

Supervisor Ryan Coonerty said the Covid-19 pandemic has exposed “huge economic divides in our community”.

“Without reliable internet access, children fall behind, work opportunities are lost,” Coonerty said. “Particularly in South County, this is a critical issue, and providing accessible and affordable high-speed Internet access is essential for low-income families.”

Equal Access is run by Cruzio Internet, in conjunction with the Santa Cruz County Community Foundation, the Santa Cruz County Office of Education, and other local organizations.

“Equal Access has been a true partnership and this county grant is an invaluable boost to our efforts,” said Cruzio President Peggy Dolgenos. “We are fortunate that our community understands the importance of the internet, especially for the generation of local residents now in primary and secondary school.”

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