Agencies team to lessen the ‘digital divide,’ bring more equity to internet access

County of Marin logoWith an influx of financial support from the Marin Community Foundation[External], several agencies are embarking on a project to provide free wireless access in Marin City and make WiFi more equitable, especially for school-age children, who are doing online schoolwork during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Marin County Department of Information Services and Technology (IST) is partnering with the Sausalito Marin City School District[External] (SMCSD) and the Marin County Office of Education[External] (MCOE) to leverage the Comcast Internet Essentials Partnership Program[External].

Two female students sit at desks in a classroom, where the desks are spaced more than 6 feet apart and the students are wearing masks.

Learning in person is best for school-aged kids, but connectivity issues can create problems with remote learning. Marin City will get two years of free internet services for up to 300 households through a new program.

The Marin County Board of Supervisors voted February 9 to accept a $150,000 donation[PDF] from the Marin Community Foundation to get the project rolling. The financial assistance is designed to support two years of internet services for up to 300 households. Schools officials will help determine eligible households that include young students.

Javier Trujillo, Marin IST’s Chief Assistant Director, said outdoor Wi-Fi access points will be installed and maintained at Bayside Martin Luther King Jr. Academy, Marin Gateway shopping center, and George “Rocky” Graham Park.

“Of the many impacts the pandemic has amplified, access to technology is one that touches our residents in multiple ways,” Trujillo said. “From remote learning, accessing public services, communications and outreach, the availability of high-speed internet has proven to be a barrier for many. “This collaboration is an important first step towards a more comprehensive solution.”

The equity project comes at a time when most school districts are relying on online learning because of the ongoing public health emergency. It was March 17, 2020, when the first sheltering order was issued by Marin County Public Health, shuttering school campuses and forcing districts to get creative – very quickly – with online teaching efforts despite inequitable wireless access.

“SMCSD firmly believes that education is a right, and internet access is essential to the learning process,” said Superintendent Itoco Garcia. “By enrolling in this partnership with Comcast, we will continue in our efforts to uplift all members of our community in the pursuit of equity. The pandemic has exacerbated the need for affordable internet access, and this collaboration couldn’t have occurred at a more important time. We’re eager to get it functioning as soon as possible.”

Marin City, which has a diverse population of about 3,200, is home to more than 500 school-aged kids. The pandemic has exacerbated the need for affordable internet service in a neighborhood with 34% of its households living on less than $25,000 of income per year. Families in Marin City have experienced a higher per capita rate of financial hardship because of COVID-19-related job loss and a higher per capita rate of the coronavirus compared to the averages in other Marin communities.

The Marin City campaign is in line with another effort to address the same issue in San Rafael’s Canal neighborhood. A larger coordinated effort called Digital Marin[External] is underway now. The countywide initiative encourages collaboration and cooperation for digital inclusion efforts and innovative connectivity solutions in local communities most impacted by the digital divide. It is a joint effort with cities, towns, residents, and providers around services and policies to serve as a springboard to a more efficient, transparent, and customer-oriented cross-jurisdictional and cross-sector service delivery.

Equity is one of the Board of Supervisors’ top-priority “Four E’s” of ongoing focus: Equity, Education, Economy, and Environment. The Marin County Office of Equity has been actively working with Marin stakeholders to create a more welcoming community, including the Marin City Community Services District[External]. For more data about equity measures in Marin, check the County’s Equity Dashboard.

Dr. Garcia added: “We are excited by the access this grants our most vulnerable students and families and the wireless infrastructure upgrades it provides to both of our campuses in Sausalito and Marin City. This will help get more kids back to in-person learning, as well as support kids who remain at home. ”

For press inquiries, contact Karen Lewis at (323) 424-9400.