Aug 3, 2020 - Technology

San Jose makes 11,000 WiFi hotspots available for students

a wifi signal drawn on a chalkboard
Illustration: Eniola Odetunde/Axios

San Jose Mayor Sam Liccardo on Monday announced a deal with AT&T to make 11,000 4G hotspots available to keep students and families connected when schools begin virtually this fall.

Why it matters: Like other school districts, Santa Clara County in the heart of Silicon Valley will stick with remote learning for the foreseeable future as COVID-19 cases surge in California. Students without broadband access will not be able to keep up with all-online classes.

Details: As part of the COVID-19 Digital Inclusion Expenditure Plan, an $8.2 million program unanimously approved by the city council, the city is working with AT&T to focus hotspot lending on K-12 students.

  • San Jose is contributing $3.4 million to the plan, and AT&T is contributing $6 million of in-kind services to provide the hotspots.
  • 8,000 WiFi hotspots will be available to public school students to keep for the school year, and 3,000 hotspots will be available to the public to check out at local libraries.
  • Community WiFi will be available within the East Side Union High School District boundaries.
  • Outdoor WiFi will be expanded at libraries, community centers and parks.

Reality check: The city of San Jose identified a little over 11,000 students who lack home internet service, but the countywide number is much larger — with an estimated total need of 15,000 hotspots and 50,000 computing devices.

  • Local officials acknowledged there are more unconnected families that they have not been able to identify.

Flashback: Liccardo made waves nearly two years ago when he quit the FCC's broadband advisory committee, citing disappointment that the committee seemed to favor the telecom industry over the public's broadband needs.

  • The city struck its own deal with AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile in the distribution of 5G small cell infrastructure in exchange for commitments to build networks in underserved areas of town and the formation of a digital inclusion fund to connect more households.

What we're watching: AT&T's Rhonda Johnson said on a press call that the company is interested in replicating the public-private arrangement with other cities.

Go deeper: Schools confront broadband access crisis

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