© 2023 KALW 91.7 FM Bay Area
KALW Public Media / 91.7 FM Bay Area
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
Available On Air Stations

COVID-19 Crisis Prompts Silicon Valley's Legislators To Finally Bridge Digital Divide

Sarah Lai Stirland
A mural in Santa Clara County

Think about things that you do everyday — study for an assignment, apply for a job — or unemployment benefits — and it’s likely that you have to do it online.

But more than 9,000 families in the heart of Silicon Valley and almost 15,000 students don’t have access to the Internet on a computer at home.

Due to the COVID-19 crisis, Santa Clara County supervisors voted on Tuesday  to close that so-called digital divide between the internet haves and have-nots.

The county’s lawmakers voted to approve more than $7 million to address the problem. Most of those needing the computers and connections are in San Jose and the southern, more rural parts of the county.

Cindy Chavez, the president of the Board of Supervisors, noted in a marathon supervisors’ meeting Tuesday that internet access at home is even more essential today because most of the basic functions of life have moved online and institutions providing public access, like libraries, are closed.

She also said that she doesn’t want low income Latinx kids without access to fall further behind academically than they already have.

Other sources of funding for the initiative come from San Jose, federal funds, AT&T, Verizon, and the Silicon Valley Community Foundation.

Supervisor Mike Wasserman sided with Chavez — reluctantly. He noted that tech industry constituents, with their stocks at record highs, should do more to step up.

Still, the county currently projects that it will run a $300 million deficit for it’s total budget the next fiscal year.

The board needs to finalize its budget in August, and equip families with internet access by the time school starts.

Sarah Lai Stirland is a freelance journalist and editor living in the South Bay. Her reporting background is in technology, science writing, law and policy. For the past few years, she's written about issues related to aging.