The Rotary Club improves Internet access for students in San Juan-Aromas

San Juan Bautista will also have a new choice for Internet service.

Two new projects in San Juan Bautista and Aromas promise to bring better Internet access to residents and businesses in the near future. Students and others living outside of current service areas will especially benefit from the expanded service.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held June 8 at Anzar High School to celebrate the Rotary Club of San Juan Bautista and the Aromas-San Juan Community Schools Foundation qualifying for a $200,000 federal matching grant to complete the first project: the purchase of information technology equipment to upgrade Internet access for the entire Aromas-San Juan Unified School District at speeds of up to .

“As we become more and more successful in providing services that allow students to connect to the Internet, you must have a sufficiently robust system,” said Phil Esparza, chair of the Rotary Access Committee. “This project means that school sites will be able to cope with the increased demand from students for the next three to five years.”

To secure the funding, Rotary had to raise $40,000, from local businesses, foundations and private donors to help bridge the digital divide, which is a problem across the country.

“It appeared to us that around 20-25% of students had little or no internet access for various reasons,” said Esparaza, who is also a BenitoLink board member. “This means that a significant number of students have not been able to follow during the pandemic. Internet service is not considered a public service, and it should be. It’s harder to serve areas like ours, so we end up having leftovers when it comes to the internet.

Rotary’s first solution was to purchase mobile hotspots at the start of the pandemic, with a range of 150 feet which they stationed at various locations around schools.

“We made sure every student in the district had access to Chromebooks and personal hotspots,” Esparza said. “This is the second year that there is 100% access for all students. But we wanted to provide a more permanent solution for schools. And our next project will be to have Internet access in the homes of every student.

The first phase of the program is expected to last 12 to 18 months, depending on the hardware supply chain. But once complete, 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 internet access upgrade as the city works with Etheric Networks to install equipment on the town’s water reservoir that will expand internet access both in the city and in areas outside the city that are underserved.

“It will be broadcast to provide better coverage at a greater distance,” Councilman John Freeman said. “They promise to provide speeds equivalent to what Charter currently offers, but this will reach areas that are beyond their service reach. And they also promise competitive rates.

For comparison, Charter/Spectrum offers speeds of up to 100 mps starting at $49.95 for service to San Juan Bautista.

The scope of service will be based on line of sight, which extends to the San Juan Valley, 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 like the school project, it depends on the supply chain.

“It always takes longer than people think,” he said. “We were promised this a year ago, but they had problems getting the parts for the antenna and the relay stations. So we had a significant setback in terms of the weather, but that’s kind of the way the economy is right now.

The city leases space for equipment in exchange for Internet access for City Hall, Community Center and Luck Library. This will most likely be fiber optic cable and faster access than what is available to residential users.

Donors to the Aromas-San Juan Schools Project include:

Rotary Club of San Juan Bautista: $10,000,

San Benito Health Foundation: $6,500

ASJ Community Schools Foundation: $5,000

Taylor Farms: $5,000

Supervisor Kollin Kosmicki: $3,000

Graniterock: $2,500

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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