San Jose, AT&T Provide 4G Hotspots for Distance Learning

As students gear up for another semester of online learning, San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo announced today that the city is partnering with AT&T to provide 11,000 hotspots with unlimited 4G LTE data plans for families without internet access.

With the coronavirus pandemic shifting learning from the classroom to the computer, San Jose leaders have expedited efforts to close the so-called digital divide.

“This issue was imperative as an issue of equity to overcome the barriers poverty has created in our city that it moved from imperative to urgent when we saw how Covid has closed schools and forced children to learn online,” Liccardo said in a news conference.

In April, Santa Clara County Superintendent of Schools Mary Ann Dewan said that the county needed at least 15,000 hotspots and 12,000 devices to support distance learning for students without internet or device access in the county’s 31 school districts.

“This school year access to the internet will be essential for participation in education,” Dewan told reporters. “New requirements will ensure that daily live interaction occurs between students, teachers and their peers. And like water and power, internet access by way of wifi is an essential utility.”

The Santa Clara County Office of Education will receive 8,000 of those hotspots and will work with local school districts in identifying students who need internet access by the beginning of this school year.

Eligible students will receive an AT&T Unite Express 2 Hotspot, free high-speed internet and an unlimited 4G LTE one-year data plan that accommodates up to 15 devices per household. The San Jose Library system will receive the remaining 3,000 hotspots.

Residents will be able to check them out with their library card for a 90-day period with the opportunity to extend the loan by an additional 30-days.

Rhonda Johnson, president of AT&T California, called the initiative part of the telecom giant’s commitment to “build a digital inclusive tomorrow by working with city leaders and community leaders and organizations that can all help us close this digital divide.”

“Due to the Covid-19 crisis, this pandemic, California communities have had to face so many challenges and AT&T has been there trying to respond with our communities to help out,” she said. “In the areas of education, some of these efforts include partnering with Gov. Newsom and the first partner to provide $550,000 of information and dollars for devices in distance learning programs.”

Obtaining the hotspots is the latest part of the city’s many strategies in closing the digital divide during the pandemic. In June, the San Jose City Council approved the Covid-19 Digital Inclusion Expenditure Plan.

“As with all of our work in supporting education, our values of equity, diversity and inclusion were at the forefront of our decision making efforts,” said Jill Bourne, who is the city librarian and the director of the city’s emergency operations center digital inclusion branch. “This plan targets the geographic areas that are most densely populated with students in grades kindergarten through 12, lower-income households and those who lack digital access. But it also offers flexibility to provide services to residents in need throughout the city by providing connectivity tools and wifi at no cost.”

Bourne added that each hotspot will come with user guides and other materials that are translated into Spanish, Vietnamese, Mandarin and Tagalog.

Councilwoman Magdalena Carrasco, who previously served as a school board member for the East Side Union High School District, represents some of the ZIP codes with the most cases of Covid-19. Over the last five months, the pandemic has widened the inequities that already exist in her district.

“It has been especially devastating for our students who were already facing the digital divide and an educational gap that leaves children with life long disadvantages,”  Carrasco said. “Access and internet and a device is a social justice issue that becomes critical in offering our communities future opportunities that can transform lives and that can transform the lives of their families.”

Grace Hase is a staff writer for San Jose Inside and Metro Silicon Valley. Email tips to [email protected]. Follow her on Twitter at @grace_hase. Or, click here to sign up for text updates about what she’s working on.

6 Comments

  1. San Jose has funding to pave every road through our Measure T, and State and County funding over the next few years.

  2. Hi Frances. You do know that was a rhetorical question, yes?

    Here are a couple real questions. These folks say the city needs 15,000 “hotspots” and 12,000 “devices” to “build a digital inclusive tomorrow.” OOO-O-O-O-K. But I have a couple leetle questions. Like, what’s a “hotspot”? And what’s a “device”? And how are they different? And are they different?

    They’re mentioned repeatedly but never defined. And since the city needs 12,000 of one and 15,000 of the other… Now I’m more confused than I usually am when reading dot.EDU-speak. Maybe it’s because after being hitched to a Principal some time after the Civil War (the first one), I still don’t know their secret handshake.

    Since the Mayor opined that “this issue was imperative as an issue,” I thought I should understand the difference between a device and a hotspot. So I clicked on the link in the article, hoping for enlightenment.

    No joy. I wish I had a book that translated bureaucratese. Better yet, I wish that article (or this one) explained the difference between a device and a hotspot.

    I still think a spot should refer to a place, and a device should be something physical that connects to Algore’s intertubes. But neither article explained the difference or defines what each one is. As Ron Popeil would say, But wait, there’s more…

    “The Santa Clara County Office of Education will receive 8,000 of those hotspots…”. It appears that a hotspot is some sort of device. Especially since the Library will receive 3,000 hotspots that students can check out. Because how does a student check out a spot?

    Mayor Liccardo announced that “the city is partnering with AT&T to provide 11,000 hotspots” for families (there’s that dang ‘hotspot’ again). Each hotspot will accommodate up to 15 “devices.” But what’s a device? That’s not explained either. Maybe a “device” is a future bill payer, as in: what happens after the 12 months of ‘free’ intertube service? That’s another unanswered question. I suspect “free” will be past tense.

    They also say “residents” will be able to check out a hotspot with their library card, and I thought I was confused before. Why not just stick with “residents,” doesn’t that cover everyone? A student is a resident, no?

    It almost seems as if AT&T has baited a hook with hotspots on the end of a 12 month long line. Then when the next online episode of General Hospital is on deck, a message will appear: “NOTICE: Your free intertubes will expire in 3 …2 …1. Have your credit card ready to renew for a discounted monthly student cost of only $…” &etc.

    They say the lucky students will receive free high-speed internet, and an unlimited 12-month data plan, which raises another question: how is it “unlimited” if it ends in 12 months?

    They say their spot can “accommodate up to 15 devices per household.” So a spot isn’t a device… or is it? I’d ask the bureaucrats quoted in the article, but after reading their comments that would surely blow a gasket. For an example, Ms Jill Bourne prefaced her comments with this gem:

    “As with all of our work in supporting education, our values of equity, diversity and inclusion were at the forefront of our decision making efforts.”

    Since those are the top priorities in dot.EDU world, is it any surprise that Johnny started shaving this year, but he still can’t read? But he’s problaby up to speed on equity, diversity and inclusion, even though he can’t spell them. And I hate to nitpick, Bourne has it backward. Education supports her.

    Mary Ann Dewan challenged Bourne’s gobbledegook with her own: “New requirements will ensure that daily live interaction occurs between students, teachers and their peers. And like water and power, internet access by way of wifi is an essential utility.”

    Say what? People can live without the internet, but try living without water and you’ll find out right quick if the internet is essential. And “live” interaction always meant face to face, up until about yesterday afternoon. But now it means face to video screen…?

    But Rhonda Johnson one-ups them both: “In the areas of education, some of these efforts include partnering with Gov. Newsom and the first partner to provide $550,000 of information and dollars for devices in distance learning programs.” Can we have another, “Say what?” How many of those dollars are info, and how many were taken from our pockets?

    The Mayor gives the official rationale:

    “This issue was imperative as an issue of equity to overcome the barriers poverty has created in our city that it moved from imperative to urgent when we saw how Covid has closed schools and forced children to learn online.” Verbatim.

    t’s also errant nonsense. “Covid” didn’t close a single school, and it didn’t force students to learn online. The government did those things. Parents want their kids back in school, but lots of folks decided a while back they like this extended paid vacation.

    The Mayor is a great example for demonstrating the garbled thinking that comes from replacing our long time education priorities of reading, writing and arithmetic, with equity, diversity and inclusion. But Mayor Liccardo isn’t the only victim.

    And finally (drum roll), we have a WINNAH! Here’s Maggie Carrasco, demonstrating how dot.EDU bureaucrat-speak should be done:

    “It has been especially devastating for our students who were already facing the digital divide and an educational gap that leaves children with life long disadvantages. Access and internet and a device is a social justice issue that becomes critical in offering our communities future opportunities that can transform lives and that can transform the lives of their families.”

    Didja hear that? “Access and internet and a device” is a critical social justice issue! Without them our children will be “devastated”! That means every child who graduated without access to the internet and a device and went to Stanford was devastated for the rest of their life. Egad. Really?

    Not really. But they gotta say something to try and justify this nonsense.

    And I still have those two leetle questions: what’s a “device”? And what’s a “hotspot”?

  3. Yo, Frances, if SJ already has funding to pave roads, why are they not paving roads?
    And Jenn, why did my captcha expire in less than 30seconds, or be followed by several with photoas so out of focus and grainy that I couldn’t see anything?

  4. The SJ library system will receive 3,000 WiFi hotspots. The libraries have been closed for months. Does this mean there is a plan for opening all the branches, or will only the branches in “underserved” areas be re-opened? What level of service will be available? The branches I utilize always have homeless loiterers with phones and laptops sitting there all day, often snoozing. Who will monitor masking and social distancing? Will temperatures be taken before entry is allowed, as happens at many markets now? Will people who are coughing, which was the norm in the computer sections for years, be asked to leave? With police defunding on the horizon, who will provide enforcement against coughers who refuse to leave?

  5. Except for the last five paragraphs, I am in complete alignment with Smokey’s contribution above. Ms. Hase has left readers dazed and confused: basic questions such as “who,” “what,” “where,” “why” and “how” were not asked in this case. It’s as though a press release from one or another of the principals cited in the piece have replaced the fundamentals of journalism.

    More fundamentally, there are some major unconnected dots here. Had Ms. Hase done a bit of background research, she would have come across the City’s so-called “Smart City” initiative as propounded by Mayor Liccardo (see https://moti.sanjosemayor.org/smart-city-vision/). That is the underlying policy framework and underlies everything she is trying to describe. More specifically, increasing access to the “hotspots” and “devices” (whatever they are) is related to the “digital divide” problem (see https://moti.sanjosemayor.org/our-work/broadband-digital-divide/).

    While I am not completely certain, it appears that the “hotspots” and “devices” are directly related to the so-called “Digital Inclusion Fund” established by the City. For context you might refer to the following sources: https://www.sanjoseca.gov/your-government/department-directory/office-of-the-city-manager/civic-innovation/broadband-strategy-and-small-cell-deployment-5147; https://sanjosespotlight.com/san-jose-approves-plan-to-expand-internet-access-to-all-students/;https://www.mercurynews.com/2020/02/29/san-jose-1-million-goes-toward-increasing-internet-access-and-digital-literacy-for-low-income-residents/; https://stopthecap.com/2018/04/25/san-jose-leverages-light-pole-small-cell-deal-with-at-1m-for-low-income-internet-access/.

    I provided some comments on a related story published in San Jose Spotlight here:
    https://sanjosespotlight.com/san-jose-mayor-hires-washington-public-image-specialist-to-boost-national-profile/. I would reiterate and emphasize that City vision and policy on these matters (and others) are obsessively neo-liberal: everything is market-oriented “partnerships” with large, profit-driven corporations including AT&T, Verizon, Sprint and Mobilitie in which what the “partners” contribute and, more importantly, what the “partners” gain from the “partnership” is deliberately obscured. In general, it is private-sector profitability uber alles.

    In my view, good investigative journalism (and all good journalism is investigative) at the city level would start with this last question. What are the respective “stakeholders'” precise gains from the “Smart City” initiative in general and its main components (e.g. overcoming the “digital divide”) in particular. Untangle and decode the verbiage and crush the spin.

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