San Jose leaders are delivering resources directly to residents’ front doors to help close the digital divide.
Mayor Matt Mahan and Congressman Jimmy Panetta canvassed around Edenvale in South San Jose today, where a third of residents could qualify for a federal program that subsidizes Wi-Fi bills by $30 a month. There are 30,000 households in San Jose that qualify—meaning their household income is at or below 200% of the federal poverty guidelines, among other qualifications.
Mahan and Panetta went door-to-door to inform residents about opportunities to sign up for the subsidy and other internet connectivity programs at the Edenvale Library. SJ Access, run by the San Jose Library system, manages digital divide resources and helps residents receive broadband bill subsidies.
“It’s a little bit shocking that in Silicon Valley and neighborhoods like Edenvale, parts of Evergreen down into the Santa Teresa area and other areas (in the South Bay) don’t have that connectivity,” Panetta told San José Spotlight. “Unfortunately that divide can create huge losses, and opportunities when it comes to our education, careers, jobs and our society.”
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About 1 in 5 U.S. households still do not have internet access, which can affect their ability to get jobs, education or even health care services.
That digital divide still exists even in San Jose, where about 95,000 residents lack access to broadband internet. Underserved communities are most impacted, with 36% of Latino families and 47% of African American families without access, according to a 2017 study conducted by the city, Stanford University and tech nonprofit Community Connect Labs.
Unlike more rural parts of the country, San Jose has the infrastructure to connect all its residents, but residents just can’t afford it, Panetta said. So in 2020, the city launched SJ Access to provide internet access, free Wi-Fi and digital literacy programs. SJ Access has a $20 million budget, and is funded in part by the $14 billion federal Affordable Connectivity Program. In addition to getting $30 monthly internet subsidies, residents can also receive $100 in one-time funds to purchase devices like a router, tablet or laptop.
Mahan said more than 33,000 city households have received the subsidy through SJ Access since 2021 and are connected to Wi-Fi—saving residents $4.7 million in broadband bills. SJ Access has also built five new community Wi-Fi networks in high needs neighborhoods, loaned thousands of hotspots and laptops to residents over three years, as well as hosted thousands of digital skills workshops.
“We want to make sure the people these programs are targeted to help actually are aware of the programs and get help taking advantage of them,” Mahan said. “That’s why our library has been so thoughtful about not just connection, not just devices, but also training and making sure it’s kind of a holistic approach.”
Jill Bourne, a city librarian, said the library’s role is to provide critical information to help residents—and it has taken the lead supporting residents in connecting to and better utilizing Wi-Fi.
“Obviously there’s still more to do, so ensuring that our community has the best offers for internet access is critical,” Bourne said. “That’s why we’re so invested in helping residents become enrolled in the affordable connectivity program.”