VIA, CoSA, SAHA, SAISD and NISD joining forces to deliver mobile Wi-Fi
A new collaboration is taking aim at the digital divide that makes distance learning difficult or impossible for many San Antonio students without reliable internet access while the city observes the “Stay Home, Work Safe” order.
VIA Metropolitan Transit, the City of San Antonio, San Antonio Housing Authority, San Antonio ISD and Northside ISD are partnering to provide mobile Wi-Fi service to students, using VIAtrans vans equipped with high-speed Wi-Fi networks. The vans are dispatched to various locations identified by the City, SAHA and the partnering school districts, based on assessment of various factors, including student population in the area, other available resources and logistics that make vehicle access feasible.
VIA mobile hotspots have a range of 100 to 200 feet. Residents accessing the network must also observe social distancing guidelines and cannot board the van. Setting up safely requires enough space for students to access the signal from a nearby parked car. Click on Map to enlarge.
SAISD and other local school districts began distributing electronic devices, including Chromebooks and iPads, to students earlier this month as schools are forced to move lessons online. Still, nearly 25 percent of Bexar County households do not have a computer at home and about 21 percent lack broadband internet access, according to the U.S. Census Bureau (2017 data). This disconnect means low-income families with school-aged children can’t easily access digital classrooms or lessons needed to complete the school year.
VIA first introduced free, systemwide Wi-Fi in 2015, equipping every bus and van with high-speed internet. The VIA mobile hotspots first rolled out last week to three test sites. Several others are being added based on availability of vehicles and utilization of the program that’s part of the new VIA Cares initiative, an effort to connect our community by organizing available resources to help make ends meet for neighbors in need.
“Our VIA Cares Program focuses on our agency’s mission to help connect our community to opportunity,” said Akeem Brown, VIA Metropolitan Transit Board Trustee. “Internet access, especially during this pandemic when students are required to pursue their studies at home, is a necessity for them to meet their academic requirements. By using VIA’s resources and working with our community partners, we are able to help bridge the digital divide and provide access to the technology they need for their educational success.”
“Providing students access to the internet is extremely vital for their educational achievement and growth, especially during a time of crisis,” said Mayor Ron Nirenberg. “I’m proud that we are working collaboratively with VIA, SAHA, San Antonio ISD, and Northside ISD to find innovative ways to do it during these challenging times. The City of San Antonio will continue its dedication to finding and supporting collaborative strategies that will increase access to our most vulnerable communities.”
“When schools closed and began to use the Internet for instruction, we at SAHA were deeply concerned for the educational future of the nearly 7,000 children who live at SAHA properties, because many do not have access to quality Internet,” said Dr. Ana Margarita “Cha” Guzman, SAHA Board of Commissioners Chair. “However, through our unique collaboration with VIA, COSA, San Antonio ISD and Northside ISD, families living at several SAHA properties will now have access to Wi-Fi. The challenge to us and the community now is to maintain access after the hotspots are gone. Our children deserve equal access.”
“At a time when distance learning is so critical, the lack of a home connection to the internet is a huge obstacle to a student’s progress toward academic achievement,” said SAISD Superintendent Pedro Martinez. “Collaborations like these between San Antonio’s organizations and school districts ensure the education of every child continues. We are proud to be a partner in this effort that has an immediate and positive impact on our families.”
“Staying connected to our families is of utmost importance and we are excited about this opportunity to partner with these companies and organizations to bring Internet access and help minimize the digital divide in some our communities,” said Dr. Brian T. Woods, Superintendent of Northside ISD. “Our focus at this time is to ensure the health and safety of our families and staff, continue to provide instruction for our students, and to support the nutritional needs of students who rely on us for food, and these kinds of collaborations are essential during this unprecedented time.”
The program will continue on a limited basis, based on resource availability and site accessibility. A fixed daily schedule and locations is available online at www.VIAinfo.net/cares.