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Canal Broadband Project Highlights Digital Divide in the Community

Posted on February 13, 2024


For many residents in San Rafael’s Canal neighborhood, unreliable or unaffordable internet service is a frustrating reality. It hinders residents’ ability to work, learn, and stay connected. To address this issue, the City of San Rafael is working alongside the County of Marin as part of the Digital Marin initiative to develop strategies and outcomes to improve internet service for all residents in the neighborhood.  

The Canal Broadband Project is a multi-year project aimed at identifying the broadband connectivity challenges in the neighborhood, to seek federal funding to improve broadband infrastructure projects to alleviate connectivity challenges in the Canal. In December 2022, the project received a grant of $260,000 from the California Public Utilities Commission to study internet access in the neighborhood and propose potential solutions. The project has successfully crossed its initial milestone by collecting data from survey respondents across the neighborhood, offering a comprehensive understanding of connectivity challenges residents face.  

Over the past year, the City collaborated with project consultants EntryPoint Networks and Merit Network to develop engagement strategies and partnerships with Canal Alliance and Voces del Canal, a local community advocacy group, to reach community members across the neighborhood. Residents in the Canal were surveyed throughout Fall 2023.  

Survey data, categorized based on federal and state definitions, revealed the following:  

  1. Unserved – Below 25/3 Mbps 
  2. Underserved – Between 25/3 Mbps and 100/20 Mbps 
  3. Served – At or Above 100/20 Mbps 

Based on these definitions, we discovered that most Canal Neighborhood households participating in the commercial speed test section of the survey were not adequately served: 

  • 60% of households are ‘unserved’ 
  • 29% of households are ‘underserved’ 
  • 11% of households are ‘served’

 

90% of homes with children do not experience modern Internet speeds of 100/20 Mbps or greater

90% of homes with children do not experience modern Internet speeds of 100/20 Mbps or greater 

 

56% of unserved respondents would use the Internet for education

56% of unserved respondents would use the Internet for education 

 

90% of respondents with Internet agree that they want more providers in the Canal

90% of respondents with Internet agree that they want more providers in the Canal. 68% of these also agree that the cost of Internet is too high 

 

53% of residents with no Internet access responded that they are willing to pay between $25 or lower per month for service, indicating a need for a low-cost option in the Canal Neighborhood

53% of residents with no Internet access responded that they are willing to pay between $25 or lower per month for service, indicating a need for a low-cost option in the Canal Neighborhood 

 

The survey results helped provide the statistical evidence that quantifies the connectivity issues in the neighborhood. This information is critical to both develop potential solutions and to advocate for funding from State and Federal government agencies. With this information the project moves to the next phase, led by EntryPoint Networks, who will outline potential solutions for broadband connectivity infrastructure and help the City decide which one is the best choice for the Canal neighborhood. A final report, detailing these proposals, will be delivered to the City of San Rafael later this spring. Subsequently, the City will decide on the next steps and explore funding options to support necessary broadband projects. 

Broadband connectivity is critical to a community’s ability to thrive and remain competitive in terms of education, economic development, talent retention, employment opportunities, and population growth. Residents without broadband desire affordable service, and connected citizens believe that more provider options are needed.   

 

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