Our Local Employees are Creating Equal Access

Cruzio was founded by people from Santa Cruz, and our staff is hired and trained right here, too. That makes Equal Access Santa Cruz a project of neighbors helping neighbors.

We’ve been building where the need is great

Our team just spent several weeks setting up connections for migrant labor housing communities east of Watsonville. Hundreds of children live there, and need internet for school. There’d been no internet at all prior to our arrival, so it was quite a job. Fortunately Cruzio’s fixed wireless technology — when conditions are right — can connect remote locations quickly and economically.

Residents pay just $15/mo, or even pay no fees at all, depending on their situation — thanks to generous donations, all from local sources. (You can help with the next project, see how.)

The homes were within sight of one of our Watsonville points of presence, and luckily had no large groups of trees, tall buildings, or mountain ridges in the way. (We generally love trees and mountains, but they can be trouble when we’re building our network.)

We wanted to have everything set so kids could get online right away. They’d already missed enough school.

This housing is occupied only from spring to fall, and families were gone for the winter. We wanted to have everything set for their return so kids could get online as soon as families returned. They’d already missed enough school.

We started work in early January. Families were due back by April 1st. So we had a short time frame to complete all the connections and wire up every one of 143 buildings in Buena Vista and its neighboring camp, Tierra Alta. From day one, it was go-go-go. Our infrastructure and system administration teams laid out the network plans — with networks, that means keeping track of hundreds of numbers and paths, both physical and logical. Then Adia Schamber and her Field Operations crew took over. 

Construction started January 18th. Children would connect to their Zoom classes as soon as they moved in — if we finished in time. The schedule was tight.

And then it rained. 

Remember the epic downpour in January?

Tony Guizar Orozco, who led construction at the camps, reported:

“A big challenge we faced while working on this project was getting all the physical roof and cable work done while it was pouring rain outside. We can’t do any roof work while it is raining, so when it began to come down, we had to halt the work on the roof and focus our attention on other work that we can do on the ground. Even in full rain gear, It is quite difficult to run exterior cable while it is raining, and especially difficult to terminate it.

Cam Kennedy, a co-worker, came up with the solution to use a rain canopy to shelter us from the rain while we worked. This allowed us to continue the cable work on the ground while waiting for an opportunity for the rain to stop and finish the roof work — a simple solution that allowed us to continue being efficient in less than ideal conditions. “

So we didn’t lose even one day of work to the rainstorm.

… but when the rain ended we had a rainbow.
Rain was just one of the hurdles

Then there were windy days when getting on a roof didn’t seem like a good idea. And the complicated ballet of COVID: to keep chances of infection low, crews aren’t allowed to combine or trade personnel, so one person’s absence can ripple into a day’s lost work for several more people. It also leads to a litany of precautions and procedures causing multiple miniscule delays: “My mask broke, can you bring an extra?” “I left the hand sanitizer in the truck, wait while I go get it.” All that may seem quaint someday, but it’s been a very real part of our work this year.

Our county badly needs rain, but the lack of rain — aside from the one downpour — did help us finish our labor camp installation in record time. We were able to work almost every day. It also helped that the Buena Vista housing is empty for the winter, so our staff was able to move quickly without bothering people. Managers expected to finish about four houses a day; we ended up finishing 10 a day, and on one memorable afternoon, Tony messaged that he and the team had finished fifteen.

But there was one last holdup…
Chris Frost brings hardware, but there weren’t enough brackets to keep routers off the floor.

In the last half of March, as we were congratulating our team for their neat, efficient work and the fast internet our tests exhibited, it was time to do the last task. The wifi routers.

We like to mount our routers up high on a wall, securely fastened in place away from spills, toddlers, and pets — who can all be death to electronics, as we all know. Adia, our Field Operations Manager, had ordered the brackets with plenty of time — throughout the project she’d been careful to have equipment ready when it was needed.

But right at the end of the project, as we prepared for residents to return on April 1st with their kids, pets, and spills, our wall mounting hardware was delayed by the manufacturer. 

On March 15th we were told the parts wouldn’t arrive until April 5th. That meant residents would find their routers on the floor when they moved in. Not acceptable! Adia called. Emailed. Pleaded. Got stern. The mounting hardware isn’t expensive, it’s not glamorous. It just didn’t, at that moment, exist. We tried to come up with alternative plans. But there was nothing as quick or as neat to install. So Adia kept after the manufacturer.

After weeks of pushing, at the last minute the manufacturer found some supply and shipped it to Cruzio. Tony and the crew rushed down to Buena Vista and buttoned everything up. And there it is today,  about 140 houses nicely kitted out with top-of-the-line equipment.

Our fine team: Luis, Tony, Ignacio, and Thom
It takes a team to wire a village

With all our experience and training in the past several years, our team works well together. Chris Frost and James Hackett are overseeing the whole program, working with community members to identify and prioritize where we can do the most good. Alison Lowenthal and Mark Hanford architected the network, and Adia planned every installation down to the last detail. Her team — Tony, Ignacio Espindola-Hernandez, Luis Ruelas, and Thom Gilbert— spent weeks wiring every residence in the camp. The farmworkers are returning household by household, and they have high speed, reliable internet for the first time ever.

This isn’t your Grandpa’s internet — it’s fast!

Our network is a permanent installation, so it will outlast the COVID crisis and provide internet service for families for many years to come. And like our other fixed wireless services, we can upgrade gear when technology evolves.

Folks in the farm labor housing — like all our residential customers — don’t have to sign long contracts, so they’ll get the low-cost, high speed connections for just the months they need it. They’ll have fast speeds for uploads as well as downloads, great for Zoom calls and sending videos to friends, families, Instagram, whatever. We don’t collect and sell their data — or anyone’s — to marketing companies and we are net neutral so their viewing choices won’t be throttled. And our customer service is friendly, local, and bilingual. 

There’s so much more to do

No sooner had residents started moving in to Buena Vista than we started getting messages like these: “My friend that lives in buena vista has great internet and lives in the middle of nowhere like me, can I get it too?”

But reaching such remote locations often requires expensive, all-new infrastructure. It’s going to be a challenge to continue finding funding for communities that are low-income, rural, or both. Cruzio continues to look for every way we can to expand, whether by accepting donations to subsidize low-income families or by working with local residents who have tall houses who can serve others in their neighborhood. 

This work is not easy but it is rewarding. We’re already planning our next projects. Be a part of Equal Access Santa Cruz! Here’s how to donate. Everything helps!

Photo credits: Cam Kennedy, Alana Matthews

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