Largely rural and agricultural, the San Joaquin Valley in California’s Central Valley has long lacked equitable access to the internet. Since 2011, the Office of Community and Economic Development (OCED) at Fresno State, via the Fresno State Connect program, has sought to connect families to affordable and reliable internet service. Providing connectivity to rural communities gives families better opportunities to thrive in a digital world. This became more essential than ever during the pandemic, when students in the Central Valley switched to online learning. “As our digital world continues to grow, it’s important that our communities receive the proper skills and support to grow along with it,” said Eduardo Gonzalez, Executive Director at OCED.
OCED’s digital inclusion efforts are done in conjunction with the California Emerging Technology Fund, the California Department of Technology, the California Public Utilities Commission, and public-private partnerships that include the Internet Service Providers (ISPs) AT&T, Charter, Comcast, and Frontier.
OCED’s local partners, such as county offices of education and local school districts, focus on providing four pillars of broadband and digital inclusion:
• Digital infrastructure – providing broadband from the middle mile to the last mile hardest to reach
• Access/adoption – distributing information from the Fresno State Connect 23 staff call center
• Hardware access – donating old computers to be refurbished or providing new Chromebooks to distribute to low-income households
• Digital literacy – supporting Parent University programming at the local community level to provide digital skills training to parents and their families
Today, OCED operates in 52 of California’s 58 counties.
To date, over 10,000 community members have achieved internet adoption, and more than 15,000 parents have participated in digital literacy classes at the Fresno State Parent University program.
Approximately 4,000 youth have been provided with connectivity and hardware access through the Fresno State Connect and Fresno State Refresh programs.