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Special Report: Communities in Southern Monterey County set to receive more affordable internet service after years of limited service

MONTEREY COUNTY, Calif. (KION-TV)- Communities in southern Monterey County say they have been limited when it comes to technology. For years, they have not had access to a fast and affordable internet service, but a program is about to change the future of these communities, as local representatives search for a solution.

Currently, there are limited communities where hundreds of families say they have lived this way for years. Delia Ramírez lives in San Lucas, and currently does not have her own internet service, as she shares a module with her daughters for which she pays $50 a month.

"Now that technology is very advanced, I imagine that the Internet is greatly needed," Ramirez said.

Delia has lived in San Lucas for more than 20 years, and says she must rent a portable module to have access to an internet connection.

During the pandemic, remote education was the biggest challenge for her family, and when the server didn't give a signal, Delia looked for alternatives.

"I took my 13-year-old girl with me when I was cleaning houses, I took her with the computer and the hot spot, I went to clean offices, I sat her in a corner, but suddenly the signals were lost anyway," Ramirez continued saying

Internet service providers often have a monopoly on service in an area, so they can determine prices and choose where to do business, local representatives said.

According to the California Public Institute, this affects African American, Latino, and low-income rural communities.

These problems occur frequently in southern Monterey County, residents and authorities say.

"The impact of not having internet in one house here may have the impact of five other houses in another community, but looking at my community we know that it is the Hispanics, it is the Latinos," said Monterey County Supervisor Chris Lopez

About 2 million California residents do not have access to high-speed internet, according to the Public Policy Institute of California, of which more than 33,000 are in Monterey County.

Given the demand for the service, students seek to solve the problem by going to the county's public libraries.

"Every day many students come, like 20-25 at a time, we have many services here such as computers that offer free internet service that you can connect on your phone or any device," said David Valdez, first assistant of public libraries for Monterey County in King City.

Students like Manuel Avalos go to the libraries in their city, where they look for a fast internet server that does not lose the signal when it comes to doing school work.

"The Internet, I came to use it for my homework, for some things that I do, that I use therapy classes and so on, that's why I use the Internet, but sometimes the Internet goes away and comes back," Avalos said.

In 2022, the California Public Utilities Commission allocated a $2.5 million grant for broadband technical assistance to cities in southern Monterey County.

In that year, the Joint Powers Agreement (JPA) emerged between Monterey County, King City, Greenfield, Soledad and Gonzales to create plans that benefit communities Southern Monterey County.

"That decision to pay for internet or put food on the table should not be a question that a parent should ask themselves, it is something that should be like water, like electricity, which is a guarantee, but to do that, we can do a different way, working together to bring the change that these communities want and demand."

Monterey County Supervisor Chris Lopez

Monterey County, in collaboration with Spectrum Charter, under the Rural Internet Opportunity program, is already working to provide faster and more affordable internet access in these communities.

In a statement, Spectrum says in part: “It is bringing gigabit broadband to underserved communities across the United States,” adding that its “investment is making it possible to deliver high-value broadband, mobile, television and voice services, which will be available in parts of San Ardo and San Lucas in the coming months."

For now, solar electricity poles have already been installed in the community of San Lucas, which will also serve for broadband infrastructure in that community.

The Monterey County Joint Power Agreement is working on a project (Open Access Broadband Network) to bring a network of providers, Supervisor López says that the application for a state grant has already been submitted, which is about to be approved.

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Sandra Iveth Santos

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Periodista Multimèdia Bilingüe en Telemundo 23 Costa Central


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