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Horacio Amezquita, general manager at San Jerardo, says that among the co-op’s roughly 250 residents only about 13 households currently have internet.

If all goes according to plan, the roughly 250 full-time residents of the San Jerardo farmworkers co-op in Salinas may soon have free broadband internet access. That’s a goal of Equal Access Monterey Bay, an initiative of the Monterey Bay Economic Partnership. Together with the Santa Cruz-based internet service provider Cruzio Internet, MBEP is hoping to replicate a project done in Watsonville where Cruzio, the Community Foundation of Santa Cruz County and the Santa Cruz County Office of Education brought free internet access to the 140 residences at the Buena Vista Migrant Center.

To replicate the concept at San Jerardo, Cruzio will need to tap into the middle mile fiber line that connects Santa Cruz to Soledad. From near Monterey Regional Airport they’ll beam internet to San Jerardo and then wire it into each unit and install a router in every home.

Cruzio Director of Business Operations and Development James Hackett says the company estimates it will cost $300,000 to serve 150-200 units for five years, at no cost to the end user. MBEP is currently raising money for the effort through a designated fund at the Community Foundation for Monterey County. They’re also pursuing other funding streams from the state and federal government. What Hackett is most excited about, though, is that this can be “highly sustainable.” Cruzio is motivated by supporting its community, Hackett says, but he argues this is also good business. Once Cruzio (or any ISP) builds out its network, it can sell full-price internet subscriptions as well as provide the subsidized ones.

“We’re growing our network and we’re growing our opportunity to be profitable,” Hackett says.

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