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At Canal Alliance, a core part of our mission is to provide direct services in the areas most needed by Latino immigrants and their families to overcome the generational cycle of poverty. 

At the same time, because Latino immigrants face many challenges and barriers to accessing services, we are continuously advocating for and working to directly address urgent and systemic issues that negatively impact our community. COVID-19 and shelter-in-place orders have exacerbated many long-standing and systemic issues facing the community 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. For 15 years, Omar Carrera, Canal Alliance’s Chief Executive Officer, has advocated for the development of an extensive broadband network in the Canal.  After students had to transition to distance learning in virtual classrooms due to the pandemic, it quickly became apparent that thousands of students who needed to participate in distance learning were not able to do so because they had limited or no access to the internet.

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. Because multiple families often live in a single home in the Canal, the leaseholder is often the only person who has 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.

As a result of this huge inequity, multiple stakeholders realized the urgent need to implement a solution to address digital equity issues in the Canal and empower students to succeed through virtual learning. As a result, the County of Marin, San Rafael City Schools, the City of San Rafael, and Canal Alliance are partnering to build a mesh WiFi network in the Canal. The new mesh WiFi network will address the digital inequity in the Canal by making it easier for students to participate in virtual learning and for Canal residents to access vital information and resources. Canal Alliance hopes the WiFi mesh network is the first step in a longer-term and more permanent solution to close the digital divide. Our goal is to build the foundation of a network with scalable infrastructure that allows us to expand the capacity to support the entire community.

The network is designed to provide students with priority access to the internet. Residents of the Canal will also have access to a portal that the city of San Rafael will use to impart vital information and critical government services, such as information about public health, unemployment, food stamps, to more of its residents.

Thank you to our Partners:

Canal WiFi is made possible by the support of our partners at County of Marin, City of San Rafael, San Rafael City Schools, and Canal Alliance. Canal WiFi is generously funded by the County of Marin and Marin Community Foundation, and thanks to pro bono and volunteer services from MarinIT, DC Electric, and Cisco Systems.

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