Two new projects in San Juan Bautista and Aromas promise to bring greater internet access to residents and businesses in the near future. Students and others living outside the current service areas will benefit in particular from the expanded service.
A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held on June 8 at Anzar High School to celebrate the San Juan Bautista Rotary Club and the Aromas-San Juan Community Schools Foundation qualifying for a $200,000 matching federal grant to complete the first project: the purchase of much-needed information technology equipment to upgrade internet access for the entire Aromas-San Juan Unified School District.
“As we become more successful in providing services for the students to connect to the internet, you have to have a system that is robust enough,” said Phil Esparza, chair of the Rotary Access Committee. “This project means that the school sites will be able to handle, for the next three to five years, the increased demand from the students.”
To get the funding the rotary had to raise $40,000, which came from local businesses, foundations, and private donors and is intended to bridge the digital divide, which is an issue across the country.
“It became apparent to us that roughly 20% to 25% of the students have little or no internet access for a variety of reasons,” said Esparaza, who is also a BenitoLink board member. “This means a significant number of students could not keep up during the pandemic. Internet service is not considered a utility, and it should be. It is harder to service areas like ours, so we end up getting leftovers as far as the internet goes.”
The Rotary’s first solution was purchasing mobile hotspots at the beginning of the pandemic, with a 150-foot range that they stationed in various locations around the schools.
“We made sure that every student in the district had access to Chromebooks and personal hotspots,” Esparza said. “This is the second year there has been 100% access for all students. But we wanted to provide a more permanent solution for the schools. And our next project will be to get internet access into the homes of every student.”
The first phase of the program should take 12 to 18 months to complete, depending on the computer hardware supply chain. But once completed, the school district will have access, from San Juan Canyon to Aromas and two-thirds of the way to Hollister.
San Juan Bautista will benefit from an upgrade to its internet access, as the city works with Etheric Networks to install equipment on the city water tank which will expand internet access both within the city and to areas outside the city that are underserved.
“It will broadcast out to give better coverage at a greater distance,” said City Councilman John Freeman. “They are promising to provide speeds equivalent to what Charter currently offers, but it will reach areas that are out of their service range. And they are promising competitive rates as well.”
For comparison, Charter/Spectrum offers speeds up to 100 mps starting at $49.95 for service to San Juan Bautista.
The range for the service will be based on line of sight, which extends to the San Juan Valley, the areas around Freitas and Lucy Brown Roads, and possibly the Rancho Larios area. The city of San Juan Bautista will also be covered.
Freeman said the city hopes the project will launch in July, but as with the school project, it depends on the supply chain.
“It always takes longer than people think it will,” he said. “We were promised this a year ago but they had problems getting the parts for the antenna and the repeater stations. So we have had an extensive setback as far as time, but that’s kind of the way the economy is right now.”
The city is leasing space for the equipment in exchange for internet access for City Hall, the Community Center and the Luck Library. It will most likely be fiber optic cable and will be higher speed access than what is available for residential users.
Donors to the Aromas-San Juan Schools project include:
San Juan Bautista Rotary Club: $10,000,
San Benito Health Foundation: $6,500
ASJ Community Schools Foundation: $5,000
Taylor Farms: $5,000
Supervisor Kollin Kosmicki: $3,000
Hollister Super/Windmill Markets: $2,500
Strada Verde Innovation Park: $2,500
Al and Jackie Munoz: $1,000
South Valley Internet: $750
Kathy and Cesar Flores: $628
Macaroni Marketing: $628
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