A nonprofit in Nyeland Acres wants to provide about 840 students in the community with free internet access.
Nyeland Promise joined with the Rio School District to connect about 132 homes in the unincorporated neighborhood of Ventura County near Oxnard, said Mary Anne Rooney of Nyeland Promise.
The goal is to get free internet access to approximately 600 Rio School District and 240 Oxnard Union High School District students in about 410 households.
About 70 homes are already connected to the free internet, Rooney said. Crews are currently working to connect the remaining homes to wrap up the first phase of the project.
“We really want to improve the quality of life for our residents, and this is one really great way we see that could create generational change where they have access to the entire world,” Rooney said.
Delma Mendez, 45, was one of the first residents to be connected. She said through a translator she had been paying $220 each month for internet for her three children. The youngest, 12, is a student in Rio Del Valle Middle School and qualified for the program.
Mendez said the free internet is much faster than the internet package she had with her cable provider. The signal would often cut out while her kids were in Zoom meetings.
Her neighbors also had high internet bills, while others opted for free hotspots provided by the school district.
Rio School District Superintendent John Puglisi said some hotspots in Nyeland Acres had trouble receiving a signal, leaving some to look elsewhere for internet.
The money Mendez saves each month goes to buying more groceries, she said.
“It was a real good idea for the school district and (Nyeland Promise) to help out Nyeland Acres, especially during the pandemic,” she said.
According to Nyeland Promise, the median household income in Nyeland Acres is $41,056. About 93% of the 2,809 residents are Hispanic, 35% of which are under the age of 19, according to Nyeland Promise.
By contrast, the median household income in Ventura County is $88,131, according to U.S. Census data.
Nyeland Promise has identified about 260 households that qualify for free internet.
The internet signal travels from Rio Del Valle school to a signal tower on the John C. Zaragoza Community Center. The signal then bounces around five towers in the area. Small antennas on the houses pick up the signal and transfer it to a router.
In the first phase of the project, 132 houses will be connected. Rooney said she did not know when the first phase would be completed.
The remaining homes will be connected once the nonprofit is able to raise enough money.
Nyeland Promise raised over $25,000 for the project. The Rio School District did not respond to requests about their costs.
Once the first two phases have been completed, Nyeland Promise will work to extend free internet access to about 150 homes with high school students.
When schools transitioned to remote learning at the onset of the pandemic, Puglisi said the school district needed to ensure each of the district’s more than 5,000 students had internet access. The district introduced internet hotspots to communities and sought out deals with internet providers.
The Nyeland Acres project also contributes to a state and federal effort to get internet access to every household, Puglisi said. Called the Last Mile, the program aims to help families overcome a lack of income or infrastructure to get internet access.
“We certainly would love it if the federal and state government took care of this last mile,” Puglisi said. “This is something that people have been talking about and nibbling around the edges for a very long time, because it's quite a process to do.”
Originally, Nyeland Promise wanted to connect everyone in their community to free internet. Rooney said the nonprofit surveyed the community and learned 70% of its residents could not afford internet access.
However, internet providers estimated it would cost over $1 million a year to offer the entire community free internet, Rooney said.
Nyeland Promise conducted another survey to determine whether residents could afford a $20 a month fee for internet. They could not.
The organization's leaders decided to phase in free internet access into the community, starting with households with students and reached out to the Rio School District, Rooney said.
Nyeland Promise was formed by Rooney and her partner Mike Barber in 2018. The two also run the nonprofit Santa to the Sea, which collects Christmas presents for underprivileged children in the county.
This article originally appeared on Ventura County Star: Nonprofit to connect about 840 Nyeland Acres students to free internet