Mar 24, 2020 - Technology

Startup ISP gives Santa Monica families free service amid pandemic

An empty Santa Monica Pier. Photo: Robyn Beck/AFP via Getty Images

Southern California broadband provider Wander is offering free high-speed internet to all families in Santa Monica with school-age children for the rest of the academic year.

Why it matters: School districts across the country are moving to virtual learning to keep students engaged during coronavirus-induced closures. But e-learning requires a reliable broadband connection, which many families do not have at home.

How it works: Wander is making the offer in partnership with the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District and the Santa Monica Education Foundation, the chief fundraising organ for schools in the area.

  • Wander provides fixed wireless internet service to about 20,000 households in the Santa Monica area. The company, which soon plans to expand to West Los Angeles, has installed the backbone of its network in around 200 buildings in the community.
  • Subscribers install a small receiver that brings the signal from those locations inside their homes.
  • The service is normally priced at $25 a month and offers download speeds of 50 mbps, which is enough to stream content, and 25 mbps upload speeds, which should be enough to video-conference, Wander CEO David Fields told Axios.

"Public-private partnerships during this challenging tie are really critical," Fields said. "With all the uncertainty of when schools will go back, we wanted to alleviate some of that stress and make it possible for everyone to work from home through the end of the school year."

The big picture: Fixed wireless internet providers are cropping up in a number of cities (Starry, for example, serves parts of Boston, Washington, D.C., and Denver) as affordable alternatives to national internet service providers. Some major ISPs offer their own fixed wireless service.

Reality check: This partnership serves a relatively small number of households in a fairly affluent community. The challenge is extending broadband service to harder-to-reach towns and neighborhoods that lack the telecom infrastructure to fire up wireless connectivity.

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