If one thing has become clear post-pandemic with the ways we work, access resources and services, and connect with one another online, it’s that the Internet is foundational to navigating contemporary life.
To help promote digital equity in alignment with California’s Broadband for All program, the Santa Barbara Association of Governments, in collaboration with the County and our local cities, recently wrapped a broadband strategic plan complete with recommendations that impact the entire region.
Here in South County, from Goleta to Carpinteria, where robust communications infrastructure is already in place, the study’s recommendations are focused on adoption and digital equity. The time is now for jurisdictions to implement these recommendations to help bridge the digital divide.
The strategic plan includes creative ideas, the implementation of which can have long lasting impact in South County. Thanks to available public funding, and no shortage of imagination or innovation, municipalities, the private sector, and nonprofit organizations can lean into this unique moment to bring digital equity to Santa Barbara.
We at Cox Communications continue to invest heavily in our local fiber-based network to meet our customers’ needs today and for generations to come. This includes gig speeds for all customers and the launch of multi-gig residential speeds in the coming months. With our fiber-based network powering the South Coast, we are excited to be one part of the community-wide approach to digital equity and adoption.
So, what does this look like?
- Affordable Internet Plans – Municipalities can play a vital role in connecting eligible constituents to affordable Internet plans, those offered by Internet providers, and the Federal Government’s Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) subsidy.
- Community WiFi – Developing public-private partnerships for free public WiFi the community can access in parks, plazas, and other convening sites. In San Diego, Cox partnered with the City to launch SDAccess4All providing open public WiFi at over 300 locations.
- Smart City Solutions — Encompassing possibilities from lighting, parking, and water management to park and public space monitoring, Smart City solutions can enhance community safety, maximize use of our valuable public spaces, and streamline municipalities’ services and public community programming.
- Digital Literacy Programming— Capitalize on the work nonprofit organizations are already doing – tech coaching, device distribution, and more – to ensure everyone who has access to the internet also has the knowledge and equipment to use it successfully and safely.
Our community is stronger when we’re connected, and we know that internet is crucial to navigating today’s world. As a committed partner and long-time supporter of the community, Cox Communications has been a leader in digital equity work for decades. Current Cox affordability and literacy programs include:
- Connect2Compete (C2C) —Internet to eligible households with K-12 students at home for $9.95/month. Santa Barbara is the birthplace of C2C, in partnership with Partners in Education and the Santa Barbara County Education Office.
- ConnectAssist — Launched during the pandemic specifically to address digital inequity, internet to eligible households for $30/month (no K-12 requirement).
- Affordable Connectivity Program (ACP) — A federal government subsidy created to address the affordability gap, a $30/month broadband subsidy for eligible households. Only 22% of eligible households in Santa Barbara County have enrolled in the ACP.
- Cox Digital Academy – Video tutorials in English and Spanish of internet and computer basics accessible to anyone free of charge.
- Cox Innovation Labs – Four labs at United Boys & Girls Clubs with free WiFi, laptops, 3D printers, and other technology for Club kids to use.
Having made digital equity a priority for more than two decades, Cox has created a template for how public-private partnerships — specifically those dedicated to digital equity — can thrive. Cox is working to get more households connected by joining forces with Partners in Education to get computers and affordable internet to families, providing free WiFi, devices, and programming to kids at United Boys & Girls Club Innovation Labs, and partnering with school districts, our public libraries, and the Housing Authority to enroll families in low-cost internet plans.
When we all come together, there is no limit to what can be accomplished. We already know how public-private partnerships can drive change and we have collective buy-in when it comes to closing the digital divide. With more focus on broadband than ever before, now is the time to maximize the available funding and the ingenuity of community members to create a better future for all of us.
Kirsten McLaughlin is Market Vice President for Cox Communications in the Santa Barbara region.