Colonia parents scramble to pay internet bills while children share devices
Back-to-school is upon us and parents and students throughout the state are busy preparing for distance learning. School districts are orienting parents on new virtual tools and processes to support student learning at home while parents are eagerly awaiting devices districts have promised their students to connect to remote classrooms.
But for families without access to broadband internet at home, much is still up in the air.
In the Rio Grande Valley where COVID cases continue at alarming rates, colonia residents urgently need access to high-speed, affordable internet in order to help their kids do well in school.
LUPE member Blanca Alcaraz spoke to Texas Tribune reporter Aliyya Swaby about how she and her four children are readying for the new school year with tentative access to internet and without the devices her children need:
|In the Rio Grande Valley, Blanca Alcaráz didn’t think internet access was a necessity for her family before March. She had a phone with a data plan, and her children spent most of their time in and around Pharr-San Juan-Alamo ISD anyway, where Alcaráz volunteered often.
Now, with her four children learning from home indefinitely, she can’t imagine going without the service. She bit the bullet and decided to pay Spectrum about $55 per month, which her one-income household can barely afford.
“If the price starts going up any further, I’ll have to cancel it,” she told The Texas Tribune in Spanish.
Community leaders in the Rio Grande Valley, where COVID-19 has filled morgues and hospitals, are rallying for high-speed internet in the region’s colonias, stretches of land along the border with Mexico that may lack services such as drinking water or sewage lines.
Alcaráz lives in Loma Linda, among broad swaths of Texas where a significant percentage of families do not have access to broadband. She knows other families, living farther from services such as phone lines, who may struggle to find an internet provider to cover them; federal data shows about 44% of households in the school district boundaries don’t have broadband subscriptions.
She applied for laptops from the district but isn’t sure how many she will receive, and the district has predicted they won’t arrive for weeks. When school starts Sept. 8, Alcaráz’s children may still be waiting for their laptops to arrive and sharing phones to complete assignments, while other students have had high-speed internet and personal laptops for years.
We know that RGV leaders recognize that the Valley has a problem with access to internet. We also know that if colonia residents are left out of the decision-making process, they will be left out of the solutions that politicians and county officials propose.
That is why we launched a campaign to bring accessible, high-speed Internet to RGV colonias. We are collecting signatures from colonia residents throughout the Valley to show elected officials that we are serious about winning internet for our neighborhoods.