A local internet startup will offer local public school students free internet through the rest of the school year to ensure they can learn online while schools are closed through Apr. 20 due to coronavirus.
Wander, an internet service provider that launched last October with the goal of undercutting large internet companies with high-speed internet at $25 per month, will provide any Santa Monica family with children in the Santa Monica-Malibu Unified School District with free internet through June 10.
Across California, 99% of students are home from school and Gov. Gavin Newsom said last week that he expects that schools will not reopen before summer break. As schools move to remote learning, students who don’t have devices or internet access at home are at risk of falling behind.
In Santa Monica and Malibu, where one in four public school students receive free or reduced lunch, district officials are analyzing the results of a recent survey to determine how many families lack the technology to facilitate online education. SMMUSD spokesperson Gail Pinsker said the district will provide devices for students in need of them.
Wander joins several internet companies who are offering free or reduced service to low-income families during the coronavirus pandemic, including Verizon, which announced Monday that it would provide free internet to Los Angeles Unified School District students who do not already have it.
“We strongly believe that public private partnerships during this challenging time are critical to provide stability in our communities,” Wander CEO David Fields said in a statement. “We’re proud to be working closely with the school district and the (Santa Monica Education Foundation) who have been able to mobilize quickly so we can help provide free internet and more peace of mind to the community.”
Wander has the capacity to deliver 50 megabits per second to 20,000 households in the Santa Monica area and is expanding its coverage significantly in the coming weeks, said spokesperson Lindsey Henn. Because the company does not serve all of Santa Monica and Malibu, Pinsker said the district is also directing families in need of internet to various ISPs.
Wander’s technicians affix a router to a balcony or roof and connect it with a cable to a router inside the home. The service is available for houses and apartments, but because its network uses wireless technology that relies on a line of sight connection to rebroadcast internet, certain buildings or homes might not be able to use it.
Henn said the startup is taking coronavirus precautions during installs in accordance with CDC guidelines, such as disinfecting, social distancing and protective gloves.
The free internet service includes Wander’s streaming platform, Wander Freely, which will include National Geographic and PBS Kids at launch.
“We are proud to partner with Wander and grateful for their generous contribution that puts families first,” said Dr. Jacqueline Mora, SMMUSD assistant superintendent of educational services. “Free internet service for families will help students continue to learn and keep the community connected and engaged during this unprecedented time.”
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