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What does it actually look like to expand access to high-speed internet?

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The San Jerardo Cooperative

The San Jerardo Cooperative. This aerial photo gives a sense of how the neighborhood is situated—in the middle of agricultural fields at the base of the Gabilan mountains.

Tajha Chappellet-Lanier here, thinking about the long and winding path that a reporting project can sometimes take.

In my former life as a technology reporter, I read, and sometimes wrote, a lot of stories about internet access and the “digital divide.” These stories tended to arise when political leaders spoke about the issue, or dedicated money toward the issue or announced the completion of some key project. Typically, these stories remained high-level discussions of policy goals like “broadband for all” and often I was left feeling like something was missing—namely, what does it actually look like to expand access to high-speed internet?

So when I heard about a project that Santa Cruz-based internet service provider Cruzio Internet was undertaking at a farmworker cooperative south of Salinas, I saw it as an opportunity to answer this question—for myself and, hopefully, for readers. I heard about the project in June of 2021, and pretty quickly got in touch with the key players at the San Jerardo co-op, at Cruzio and at fundraising partner Monterey Bay Economic Partnership to explain what I wanted: A ride-along, of sorts.

Infrastructure projects move at infrastructure project pace, so over the course of the next year I’d send James Hackett (Cruzio’s director of business operations and development) an email every month or so asking for an update. (Thank you for your patience, James.) When there was news to share, we caught up on the phone.

Finally, in early August of this year, I was able to spend a morning at San Jerardo while the Cruzio team completed the final leg of the project: wiring the service into each of the co-op’s 66 homes. This experience forms the backbone of my cover story in this week’s print edition of the Weekly.

There’s a lot more in the story because lack of quality, affordable internet access isn’t just an issue at San Jerardo. I hope you’ll read the story and, even more so, I hope you’ll walk away with a better understanding of what it takes to expand access to this modern utility, and what we’re talking about when we talk about the digital divide.

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