Marin launches free satellite internet program for coastal families

Fifty families in western Mauritius are to receive free satellite internet service for the next three years as part of a new project to address differences in internet access for students in rural communities.

The initiative, led by a partnership of county government, the Shoreline Unified School District, the Marin County Free Library and service organizations, has already established SpaceX’s Starlink satellite internet service for 25 families, with 25 more to follow. in the future. months.

The “Shore Connectivity Project” is intended to help families with poor internet access or a lack of computer skills that have been delayed by the onset of the coronavirus pandemic and the resulting shift by schools to online education.

“As soon as kids went back to school things still haven’t gone back to pre-COVID days,” said Balandra Fregoso, executive director of the Parent Services Project, a San Rafael nonprofit group that is a partner in the program. “A lot of meetings are taking place via Zoom. What the pandemic did is it opened up this gap that we didn’t realize existed in terms of tech equity. We are still teaching parents about the platforms the schools use.”

Many of the families served by the new program live on a farm west of Marin, where internet service is limited. Most families also speak Spanish, Fregoso said.

Carolina Renteria, who lives near Highway 1 in Point Reyes, said her family’s poor internet connection created conflicts between her four school-age children during the pandemic, when distance learning was mandated. If the four children tried to connect to the internet to attend class or do work, they often lost connection. The spotlights released at the school didn’t do much to alleviate the issue either, she said.

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As a result, Renteria said her youngest child, who was attending kindergarten at the time, would occasionally have to miss her classes so that her other siblings at higher levels could attend theirs.

But after the Shore Unified School District contacted him about the new connectivity project and Starlink equipment was installed in their home this year, Renteria said their connection problems are gone.

“It’s been a big change,” Renteria said, speaking through an interpreter. “It’s not slowing down and we’re no longer fighting over who uses the internet. It is of good quality. I can be more connected because I don’t have to wait and it’s fast.”

The project is estimated to cost approximately $390,000 and is being funded through the federal American Rescue Plan stimulus package, the Marin Community Foundation, the Pinkus Family Foundation, the West Marin Fund, the Shore Unified School District and the Federal Emergency Reconnection Fund.

This project is the latest in the county to tackle internet connectivity issues, particularly in low-income communities, since the pandemic began. Other projects include free Wi-Fi networks to serve hundreds of homes in the San Rafael Canal neighborhood and the City of Marin.

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“The idea was to work through many different communities and geographic regions in the county, each of which is very different and has very different needs,” said Javier Trujillo, chief assistant director of the Department of Information Services and Marin County Technology.

Efforts to address connection issues in western Marin began in 2021. For areas near Tomales Bay and to the north, wireless internet connection can be lacking and geography prevents fiber expansion. high speed in terms of cost, Trujillo said.

As a result, the county turned to Starlink, which uses thousands of low-orbit satellites to provide broadband internet service in otherwise hard-to-reach areas.

To identify which families would be part of the new program, the Parent Service Project worked with the Shore Unified School District to identify the families most in need of the service. The non-profit group has already been working with families in the area to teach computer skills during the pandemic and is now helping families install Starlink kits.

In the Shore Unified School District, 55% of students qualify for free and reduced lunch as of 2020-2021, according to Maria Niggle of the Marin Promise Partnership. Forty-six students did not have an internet connection at home and 52 students had to go to learning hubs set up in the area to connect to the internet, Niggle said.

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“What we were hearing from family advocates for the schools was that parents were driving miles for their kids to have some cell service and were sitting in their cars for hours trying to get access on their education,” said Niggle.

The Marin Promise Partnership, which is working to collect data and coordinate the various partners for the project, is a network of more than 100 schools, nonprofit groups, businesses and government agencies focused on addressing education equity issues. Niggle said he hopes to find more funding sources to expand the project to more families.

Fregoso said the Parent Service Project is training parents who received the Starlink service and other members of the community to be mentors to other families related to digital literacy and computer education.

“This has been two years in the making and we finally got it off the ground,” Fregoso said of the project. “It’s really exciting to see and I know we are making a difference in the lives of families. I’m sorry there’s this equity gap but I think we’re doing a great job closing one device at a time.”

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