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.”