d’Souza: Closing the digital divide can also help clean up the air
Air quality has improved as traffic has fallen during the coronavirus pandemic.

Can you imagine schoolchildren learning unrestricted by the complications of asthma because the air is clean every day?

Ten weeks into the historic pandemic, and clean air looks like the new normal. Sheltering in place has resulted in a significant drop in traffic that has cleaned up the air. The shutdown has achieved in 10 weeks what the Bay Area Air Quality Management District has been unable to achieve for 70 years.

Making the change permanent would realize an environmental dream that dates to the signing of the Clean Air Act.

And we could if everyone had robust, reliable high-speed internet service.

Today you apply for a job, interview and start a new job online. You go to school online, check in with your doctor on telemedicine and order essentials on Instacart. That is if you have robust, reliable high-speed internet service. What the pandemic has laid bare is that in the world’s hub of technology known as Silicon Valley, thousands of workers and schoolchildren living in disadvantaged areas in Santa Clara County do not have Wi-Fi or access to hot spots. They cannot plug in from home.

The solution to the digital divide is to create a public internet utility company.

We can end the constant bumper-to-bump traffic during the morning and evening commutes for essential workers, keep the skies blue and no child gets left behind or has to go to a local coffee shop where there is Wi-Fi to get their work done.

A public internet utility company is the ideal combination of environmental stewardship with environmental justice.

The Sierra Club supports a public internet company proposal authored by Santa Clara County Board President Cindy Chavez discussed at Tuesday’s Board of Supervisors meeting because it chips away at the digital divide inequities in disadvantaged communities and is one of many systemic changes needed post-pandemic.

Chavez’s proposal begins the process of looking at options to create a Santa Clara County public internet utility company. It also looks at how the county can work in partnership with VTA and Caltrain for use of public transit properties and right of ways to future-proof internet service for underserved community members and small businesses.

The internet unifies, and that has been proven in numerous cities across the country that provide public internet from Indiana to Florida. The Sierra Club looks forward to working with Santa Clara County to make a public internet utility company a reality.

Gladwyn d’Souza is the co-chair of the Conservation Committee of the Sierra Club’s Loma Prieta Chapter.

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