Bay City News Service
EAST PALO ALTO — Distance learning became a lot easier for some families without Wi-Fi in East Palo Alto, as San Mateo County recently installed over 70 free Wi-Fi access points in the city’s Woodland Park Apartment community.
The newly installed Wi-Fi access points, which went live on Nov. 20, connect to the SMC Public Wi-Fi network. They will serve more than 1,800 affordable apartment units in the community, according to the county’s Friday press release.
Those units house more than 4,000 residents, including 223 K-12 students attending schools in East Palo Alto, Redwood City and surrounding areas.
“Internet access is essential for students to have a fair chance at an education,” Gina Sudaria, superintendent of the Ravenswood City School District, said in the release. The Ravenswood district serves East Palo Alto and eastern Menlo Park, and is offering distance learning in its schools.
The project is in partnership with the property owner, the Sand Hill Property Company. Michael Kramer, who leads Sand Hill’s work in East Palo Alto, said that they were impressed with the county’s “community-oriented approach” and were excited to partner with them.
Launched in 2014, the SMC Public Wi-Fi network exists in over 100 public spaces around the county, like parks and community centers.
“Our experience over the past five years in building and operating this network has allowed us to quickly expand SMC Public Wi-Fi in response to the urgent needs of the community,” County Chief Information Officer Jon Walton said.
In March, the county launched an initiative to expand its public network to help students with distance learning during the pandemic.
The county’s Board of Supervisors allocated $6.3 million from Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds to the Wi-Fi initiative.
Through data collection, the county identified areas that had the highest number of students with connectivity issues in four school districts: Ravenswood City, La Honda-Pescadero Unified, Sequoia Union and the Redwood City Elementary School District. Results showed a high concentration of unconnected students in the Woodland Park Apartments community.
The installation of the network in East Palo Alto marks the completion of the second phase of the expansion initiative. In August, the first phase provided broadband service subscriptions to 650 qualifying students in two school districts.
By the end of 2020, the county plans to further expand its Wi-Fi network and establish mobile, on-demand Wi-Fi services.