Berkeley Unified School District, or BUSD, launched a partnership Feb. 8 with local internet provider Sonic to alleviate struggles with unstable internet and inadequate technologies in the midst of distance learning.
The partnership offers free high-speed fiber optic internet access to all BUSD students until July 1, according to a BUSD press release. While the hot spots the school district had previously been using continue to be a useful internet resource, this partnership will provide a more cost-effective avenue for families who need faster and more reliable internet, according to Valerie Kratzer, Berkeley Public Schools Fund’s development and outreach coordinator.
“Internet access is really an equity issue today, without decent internet at home, you cannot fully participate in society today. That’s not just about education, working and finding a job, it’s about social interaction,” said Sonic CEO Dane Jasper. “Even when you can go to school, you need to come home, study, do your homework, research and satisfy your curiosity.”
Working on the ground at Ed Hub, BUSD’s distribution site for COVID-19 educational resources, Kratzer often interacts with families who have internet and digital needs. When she found out the partnership with BUSD and Sonic was finally going through, she was “jumping up and down.”
As of press time, Jasper said about 100 BUSD households have been connected to Sonic’s free internet. He added that he expects the volume of connections to increase in the coming months.
Even though there are only four months left of this academic school year and some BUSD schools are allowed to reopen for in-person classes, Kratzer said this partnership to offer free internet access is still necessary.
“People think everyone should be set now but that’s not the case,” Kratzer said. “A lot of families have gone through their complete savings and they don’t have any more options. Everybody’s life is very much in flux with the pandemic.”
According to Jasper, Sonic aims to continue to work with the Federal Communications Commission, the Berkeley Public Schools Fund and other sources of grants to keep providing free service beyond the July 1 end date.
While hot spots initially seemed to be a solid solution toward reliable internet access for academic purposes, Jasper said doling out linked or battery-powered hot spot devices is not a permanent fix.
Kratzer added that there can only be so many students on one hot spot. Fiber internet is better equipped to carry a family of any size.
“I think we’re still going to find out the concerns,” Kratzer said. “My biggest concern is that people aren’t going to hear about it or sign on. As with everything with this pandemic, you find out the hiccups and concerns later.”