Kern County is trying to bridge the digital divide to provide better Internet access | Panda Anku

BAKERSFIELD, Calif. (KERO) – Before school districts deployed Hot Spots and Chromebooks, many relied on parking lots near fast food restaurants or libraries to keep pace with virtual school development. Still, officials say this was just the first phase of the digital divide, and efforts don’t stop there. They will try to improve access not only to libraries and schools.

“It really comes down to students having access to technology and the Internet and students who don’t,” said Anthony Davis, chief technology officer for the Kern County Superintendent of Schools.

Davis says that although the latest census data shows 83 percent of households in the county have access to the internet, they are working to ensure 17 percent are not left behind.

“We have a lot of small school districts that are honestly struggling where maybe the only connectivity in the city is connectivity provided by the school.”

Davis says because they’ve spent grant money building towers near areas like Caliente and Lost Hills to bring Wi-Fi to schools, it’s not enough because kids need it at home, too.

“Because of the limitations of technology [we have] enough connectivity for school. We don’t have enough to feed the entire community.”

And that is the case with most rural communities in Kern.

Fahra Dardedia, a librarian at Kern County Library, explains, “We have about 76,000 people using our WiFi services here in Kern County, and you can definitely tell the need is there. Our facilities are used for interviews and people bring their own devices for homework help and things like that, so the need in the community is definitely there.”

Daredia says that over the past two years they’ve seen an increase in website interactions, not only with children but also with adults who rely on their services.

But in the meantime, Davis says, the biggest push for a solution is fiber being deployed in those communities. Both Lost Hills and Kernville are on the state list of areas receiving this upgrade.

“Now we have better opportunities for the neighborhoods and the actual community to get connectivity. So it’s not just helping schools and libraries, it’s helping everyone.”

How to get help paying for Internet access

Although the push is focused on providing access for rural communities, the Kern County Superintendent of Schools wants to make sure families are informed about a state-sponsored assistance program for those in areas where the internet is available, it but may not be able to afford to pay for this service.

Internet is something that many take for granted, and although children are no longer attending school online, Internet access has become an essential part of academic success.

Hot spots have become a lifeline for many families without internet access. But before school districts loaned them out during the pandemic, families drove to parking lots in front of the library to keep up with virtual schools. But officials say these devices aren’t ideal and that home Wi-Fi would be much better.

“For younger kids, when they need to have a hotspot and a Chromebook and both need to be charged, it can be complicated. So if we can get families on a more wired connection, the district will have fewer bug fixes,” he told Davis.

That’s why the Kern County Superintendent of Schools wants the community to do this know about the Affordable Connectivity Program. Eligible are those who have a household member participating in programs such as free or discounted school meals, CalFresh, SNAP, Medi-Cal, and others.

Who is eligible for the Affordable Connectivity Program?

YOUR HOUSEHOLD IS ELIGIBLE FOR ACP BENEFITS IF: Your household income is $53,000 or less if you are a family of 4 (FOR EACH ADDITIONAL MEMBER ADD $9,000).

OR

A household member is enrolled in at least ONE (1) of the following government assistance programs:

  • lifeline
  • Free or discounted school lunch program, CEP schools
  • CalFresh or SNAP
  • Medi-Cal or Supplemental Security Income (SSI)
  • Pel Grant
  • WIC (women, infants & children)
  • Federal Public Housing Assistance (FPHA)
  • Veteran’s Pension and Survivor’s Pension

OR

A household member is enrolled in at least ONE (1) of the following Indigenous Community Support Services:

  • Tribal programs for residents of qualifying tribal areas
  • General support to the Office of Indian Affairs
  • Tribal TANF
  • Food Distribution Program on Indian Reservations
  • Tribal Headstart (must meet relevant income qualification standard)

According to Davis, the program offers “up to $30 per family for low-income students.”

Davis adds that despite providing this help, they’ve seen hesitation in the core community.

“Because personal information is required. So if you have undocumented families, there seems to be this resistance because they fear that if I provide information it will lead to other problems. And so we’re trying to enlighten and bridge the gap so some of these students have the opportunity to come.”

Because bridging the digital divide is not just about access to the internet and computers, but also knowing how to use them, the library provides resources for these skills.

The cost of going to school is increasing

23ABC in detail: The costs of starting school are increasing

Unfortunately, due to inflation, computers and other tech gadgets aren’t the only things many families are worried about for back-to-school.

New information from Klover, a company that collects spending data from its more than 3 million consumers as well as point-of-sale price data, has revealed that the prices of most items on annual back-to-school shopping lists have risen.

Klover reports that items like duct tape and sharpies have seen some of the biggest price jumps year-over-year. For all varieties of 3M brand tape, the average price this year has increased by almost 70 percent compared to 2021. They also report that the cost of Elmer’s glue is up 30 percent this year.

Elsewhere, popular Jansport backpacks are about 2 percent higher, and Nike sneakers are up 12 percent.



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