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Santa Barbara County coalition aims to improve internet access

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Posted at 7:28 PM, Apr 24, 2022
and last updated 2022-04-25 00:10:33-04

In 2020, Governor Gavin Newsom signed an executive order for broadband access for all in the state of California. That order has now sparked efforts by a coalition of government, tribal and business leaders in Santa Barbara County aimed at better understanding internet access and affordability countywide.

“We rely so much on the internet," said Santa Maria resident Jerson Ramos.

According to the U.S. Census Bureau, in Santa Barbara County about 89% of homes reported having a broadband internet subscription between 2016 to 2020, but there’s still a percentage of people without access.

“We know that there are communities in Santa Barbara County that already don’t have access to the internet and we hear from schools who had to shoulder a lot of these struggles during the COVID pandemic," said public information officer for SBCAG, Lauren Bianchi Klemann.

Ramos says he saw the internet become more of a need in his household.

“Especially during COVID we used it a lot with Zoom and everything," said Ramos.

Econ Alliance and SBCAG want to help close the digital divide and has created ten in-person community meetings in eight different cities within the county as part of a larger strategic plan for affordable and accessible internet.

“To really listen. To get into every city and community in our region because we know our communities are unique and so we want to ask questions that are unique to that area," said Klemann.

There may be multiple factors for the lack of access to the internet within these cities, such as the lack of equipment, availability, or even costs.

“It’s expensive, yeah, it’s expensive but my kids use it a lot," said Santa Maria resident Hilda Valencia in Spanish.

SBCAG s also asking community members to self-report their internet needs by taking an anonymous speed test online people can also report by calling this number (805) 961-8902.

These efforts aim to better understand internet availability and affordability countywide and funding decisions with a goal to work toward digital inclusion. The first community forum was held in Lompoc. The next forum will take place in Santa Maria this Tuesday, April 26th at the public library starting at 2:30 p.m.

Full list of community meetings:

  • Santa Maria – 2:30 p.m., Tuesday, April 26 at Shepard Hall, Santa Maria Public Library, 421 S. McClelland, Santa Maria. *Program in English, simultaneous interpretation in English and Spanish
  • Santa Ynez – 5:30 p.m., Wednesday, April 27 at Community Services District, 1070 Faraday, Santa Ynez
  • Guadalupe – 5:30 p.m., Wednesday, May 4, Guadalupe City Council Chambers, 918 Obispo St., Guadalupe. *Program in English with simultaneous interpretation in English and Spanish
    Guadalupe – 6 p.m., Wednesday, May 11, Guadalupe City Council Chambers, 918 Obispo St., Guadalupe. *Program in Spanish, with simultaneous interpretation in English and Spanish
  • Orcutt – 6 p.m., Wednesday, May 18, Lakeview Elementary Multi-Use Room, 3700 Orcutt Road, Orcutt
  • Buellton – 5:30 p.m., Thursday, May 19, Valley Elementary, 595 2nd Street, Buellton
  • Solvang – 5:30 p.m., Thursday, May 26, Solvang City Hall, 1644 Oak Street, Solvang