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Digital Divide in the Canal

August 19, 2020

By Elizabeth Dembski

At Canal Alliance, the heart of our mission is to provide direct services in the areas most needed by immigrants to overcome the generational cycle of poverty. Now, during the crisis presented by COVID-19 and its disproportionate impact on the Latino immigrant community in Marin, we are also working to address the urgent issues that are arising for our clients and the community.

COVID-19 and shelter-in-place orders have exacerbated many issues facing Latino immigrants in San Rafael’s Canal neighborhood. One issue that has long existed but is much more visible as a result of the pandemic is the lack of digital access in the Canal. Now thousands of students in the Canal are required to participate in distance learning, yet many have limited access. There are many reasons for this equity gap among low-income families including the prohibitive cost of internet and the lack of an extensive broadband network in the Canal neighborhood, and multiple families living in a single home with only the leaseholder having access to the internet. These internet access challenges are compounded by the fact that many families do not have computers, or have only one computer per house, so all members must share a single computer.

Since the Shelter-in-Place order went into effect, the County of Marin, City of San Rafael, Canal Alliance, and San Rafael City Schools have been working together to address digital equity issues through the distribution of Chromebook laptops and personal WiFi hotspots, promoting awareness of commercial low-cost internet access, and building a WiFi network.

To support these efforts with data demonstrating the equity gap that exists, Canal Alliance conducted a survey about internet access and computer availability in the Canal neighborhood to better inform our priorities and allocation of resources going forward. Here’s what we learned:

Methodology:
We collected survey responses from June 1 to June 23, 2020. Responses were collected in-person at food distribution events in the Canal neighborhood, and online via text, social media, and email. We received 1,502 total responses, of which 849 indicated that they live in the Canal neighborhood, 589 said they lived outside of the Canal but within San Rafael, 60 said they lived outside of San Rafael, and 4 did not answer. Of respondents, 943 completed the survey in Spanish.

Thank you to our partners on this project:

The County of Marin, City of San Rafael, San Rafael City Schools

Recent press provides more information about our collaborative efforts to shrink the digital divide in the Canal neighborhood and ensure that students and their families have access to remote education and important resources:

UNIDOS US Progress Report
Spotlight on California: Navigating Back to School in a Coronavirus Hot Spot

Government Technology
How San Rafael, Calif., Built a Wi-Fi Network During a Pandemic

Marin Independent Journal
Editorial: Overdue Wi-Fi for Canal Coming Just in Time

CBS SF Bay Area
San Rafael Rushes to Provide Poor Neighborhood Free WiFi

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