A previous version of this story ran briefly but was removed for editing. It originally incorrectly stated that the grant to fund wi-fi at the Aromas-San Juan Community Schools had failed. That grant has been awarded and the project is moving forward.
A funding setback has delayed a plan to guarantee internet access to low-income students for areas of Aromas and San Juan Bautista that currently lack sufficient services. The plan was the second part of an effort by the San Juan Bautista Rotary Club, which had already succeeded, along with the Aromas-San Juan Community Schools Foundation, in getting funding to provide better internet access to students at the district schools.
That first project was announced on June 8 after the two organizations qualified for a $200,000 matching federal grant. The second project, if funded, will bring internet access to students on the reduced or free school meals program and who live in areas not serviced by current internet providers.
“The short version of a long story is that it will take a bit longer than we hoped,” said Elise Brentnall, president and COO of South Valley Internet. “We were hoping for $800,000 in funding that, at this point, has been delayed. We went to the State of California for help through the line extension program, and there just wasn’t any way we could make it meet the requirements. That program is for single houses only; we needed coverage for just under 600 houses over a 140-mile square area.”
Loss of funding could mean a delay in completion, and while the project did not qualify for that grant, other funding is possible, according to Brentnall.
“We will apply for any appropriate grants,” she said, “and we will continue to fundraise. I am hoping there is a way to do something sooner than later. The good news is that everybody thinks it is a worthwhile project, and the state likes it. They have helped us as far as they can.”
South Valley Internet will be holding local fundraisers, including selling T-shirts for $25 at the recent San Juan Days celebration on August 14, with all proceeds going to the project.
“That is a dang hard way to raise the money,” she said. “But they are cool T-shirts, and it is just a way to get the word out. We will also be passing out brochures and taking donations. It will be a lot of work to raise the money, but it will happen. It’s just a matter of when.”
While funding is still up in the air, research and preparation continue.
“We have a plan and a design,” she said. “We are looking for places we can put distribution points to relay the signals into the canyons and valleys, through the trees, to get it to people who desperately need it.”
Brentnall said she hopes to have some funding breakthroughs in a few weeks and will post updates on the company’s Balanced Access website.
“We need to get modern, efficient broadband to every family in the district,” said Rotary Club member Wayne Norton. “It is a huge geographical area with not a lot of people, but without internet access, those students could have the best computers possible and they would be worthless for the work they need to do.”
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