Connections Made: Equal Access Santa Cruz County Report to the Community

A high-speed fixed wireless internet distribution site (Point of Presence or PoP) on a PVUSD building in Watsonville.

By Peggy Dolgenos and Susan True

An internet service provider, a school district, and a community foundation walked into a zoom room…

What sounds like the beginning of a boring COVID-era joke is actually the true story of an extraordinary cross-sector partnership of industry, philanthropy, and education that has brought internet access to hundreds of families in the Pajaro Valley through Equal Access Santa Cruz County (EASC). 

The Problem to Tackle

Among the persistent inequities that became glaringly visible at the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the lack of internet access threatened to put students, who already face obstacles to their education, even further behind during distance learning.  Although students were equipped with Chromebooks and hotspots, internet connections were spotty and unreliable. Many were missing class sessions, unable to access online homework, and unable to communicate with their teachers. 

Double Jeopardy

In order to start bridging the local digital divide, we had to address the core issues—a lack of internet infrastructure in many parts of the County, especially the Pajaro Valley, and families being unable to afford the monthly internet bill. 

Problem-solving the technology was fairly uncomplicated for a company like Cruzio. But they needed a philanthropic partner to help raise funds, and act as a place where donors’ gifts could be entrusted and stewarded. With four decades of experience bringing together people, ideas, and resources to tackle the most pressing problems in our community, the Community Foundation was a natural, and eager partner.  

Cruzio’s high-speed fixed wireless internet distribution sites (Point of Presences or POPs) can be built quickly and at a fraction of the cost of fiber. The Cruzio team installed POPs on PVUSD school buildings, with each site capable of serving 150 or more users. And free or heavily subsidized service was made possible through gifts to the Community Foundation’s EASC fund, bridging the affordability gap. 

Luis & Thom from Cruzio install internet infrastructure at Buena Vista Migrant Labor Camp.

The Community Comes Through  

When we bring the community together, we get things done. Donations came from groups like the Rotary Club of Watsonville, local companies–including a major grant from Driscoll’s and another from Reiter Affiliated Companies, and many generous individuals. Your donations to EASC have made a meaningful difference in the lives of hundreds of students and families. 

Mahia Aguilar, a Aptos Junior High student, told us that thanks to EASC, she didn’t need to go out to the park looking for free internet. A single mom whose child attended the distance learning support program at the Farm Discovery Center (where we connected high speed broadband) told us that she was able to go back to work to help feed her family. 

Equal Access Santa Cruz County By the Numbers

This is what your generosity helped accomplish.

Next Steps

The internet is an essential educational tool whether students are in digital classrooms or back on campus. They need it to access assignments, for research, and to stay on top of work during absences, which during this time of COVID are many, as students face exposure and climbing cases.  

Phase 1 of Equal Access exceeded our expectations. In the next phase, new internet sites are already planned as we continue our partnership with PVUSD, add coverage in Live Oak, and collaborate with Pajaro Valley Shelter Services. We’re developing a new partnership with Santa Cruz Housing Authority and other affordable housing developers to bring gigabit speed internet to hundreds more families across the county. 

You can help support the work ahead by giving to the EASC Fund. Together, we will close the digital divide in Santa Cruz County.

About the Authors

Peggy Dolgenos is the CEO of Cruzio.

Susan True is the CEO of Community Foundation Santa Cruz County.

More stories about EASC impact:

Good Times: How Equal Access Santa Cruz County is Bridging the Digital Divide

Video: Bridging the Digital Divide

Farm Discovery & Cruzio: Bringing Internet Learning to a Farm Setting

A student logs into school outside at the Live Earth Farm

For Farm Discovery – a nonprofit that connects our community’s youth to a deeper understanding of agriculture, food, and the environment–2020 was set to be their biggest season yet. They expected to have 3,000 kids at their Live Earth Farm in Pajaro Valley that year between school field trips and their youth camp programs where kids learn farming skills, nutritional skills, and environmental stewardship and how these are delicately intertwined. Then, COVID hit.

Continue reading “Farm Discovery & Cruzio: Bringing Internet Learning to a Farm Setting”

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.

Continue reading “Our Local Employees are Creating Equal Access”

Good Times – How Equal Access Santa Cruz County is Bridging the Digital Divide


When distance learning began at the outset of the pandemic, former farmworker Aracely Fernandez, a resident of the Buena Vista Migrant Center in Watsonville, had no reliable internet access. Her fifth grade son, a student in the Pajaro Valley Unified School District, would need it to continue attending public school.

Continue reading on Good Times Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz Works – Closing the Digital Divide in Santa Cruz County

Equal Access Santa Cruz County Update

Equal Access Santa Cruz County has a simple goal: bridge the digital divide and bring true high-speed broadband to every family in the Santa Cruz community, regardless of income level.

This project is spearheaded by Cruzio Internet, working with Community Foundation Santa Cruz County, the Santa Cruz County Office of Education, Pajaro Valley School District, and other local organizations.

The digital divide has existed for a long time and has been ever-growing as resources and school participation increasingly shift to online formats…..

Continue reading on Santa Cruz Works

From Cruzio’s CEO: First the Good News

Click on the photo to see more Cruzio pandemic pet pictures

There is good news among the ruins of 2020. For Cruzio, it’s that we’ve brought nearly 100 low-income families online, helping kids with online learning and seniors stay connected.

And we expect to connect hundreds more in the near future. Our upcoming project is the Buena Vista Migrant Center — till now they’ve had no broadband. About 140 children live in the housing there. Read the inspiring story of local resident Juan Morales-Rocha’s vision to connect the camp.

Continue reading “From Cruzio’s CEO: First the Good News”

Lookout Santa Cruz – 21 for ‘21: For Juan Morales-Rocha, bridging the digital divide was personal

Juan Morales-Rocha helped lay the groundwork for a project seeking to bridge Santa Cruz County’s digital divide.
(Kevin Painchaud / Lookout Santa Cruz)


The first time he tried to restore reliable internet to the farmworker housing where he was raised in Watsonville, Juan Morales-Rocha ran into a dead end.

“I was calling people, trying to connect the dots — like, who would be the right person to call?” he said. “No results, basically, because I guess it wasn’t as important, right?”

That was April 2019, a year before the COVID-19 pandemic pushed so much of school, work and life behind a computer screen….

Continue Reading On Lookout Santa Cruz

Santa Cruz Tech Beat – Rotary Club of Watsonville and Driscoll’s are Closing the Digital Divide: PVUSD Kids Get Connected

Equal Access Santa Cruz County increases opportunity and access to education through internet connection, has met the project’s first financial goal but the need is still great

The success of students in the distance learning model depends on access to reliable internet service. Two months ago, Cruzio Internet and Community Foundation Santa Cruz County launched Equal Access Santa Cruz County (EASC) with a simple goal: bridge the digital divide and bring true high-speed broadband to every family in Santa Cruz County, regardless of income level. Pajaro Valley Unified School District (PVUSD) welcomed EASC as an opportunity to address the pressing digital divide, made even more acute during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The Rotary Club of Watsonville and Driscoll’s, with help from the Community Foundation, raised the $105,000 dollars needed for EASC to provide internet infrastructure and monthly broadband at the Buena Vista Migrant Labor Camp which will provide long-term high speed internet to about 150 school children.

Continue Reading on Santa Cruz Tech Beat

Monterey Herald – Closing the Digital Gap Will Take Persistence


Broadband connectivity is absolutely essential. The COVID-19 pandemic makes that fact clear. When the photo of two girls using WiFi on the sidewalk outside a Taco Bell in Salinas in August went viral, our region’s digital divide was laid bare to the world as never before.

But it isn’t new. Our gaps in service and the inequities in coverage are only more apparent…

Continue Reading on Monterey Herald