Free Wi-Fi will soon be available at several locations across Santa Fe despite reservations about the project from some city councilors who ended up voting for it anyway.

After a nearly 11/2 hour discussion Wednesday, Mayor Alan Webber and the City Council unanimously approved a memorandum of understanding with Santa Fe Public Schools for the city to install Wi-Fi hot spots at several school campuses. The free Wi-Fi on school grounds is primarily intended for students who have switched to online learning in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic but who have limited or no internet access.

Though not part of the agreement with the school district, the city also plans to install Wi-Fi hot spots at several city-owned buildings that will be available for the public to log into, too.

“In combination with city-owned sites, the selected school locations will allow for more areas of the city to have hotspots near at hand,” Sean Moody, the city’s telecommunications architect, wrote in a memo to the council.

Some city councilors, including Michael Garcia, JoAnne Vigil Coppler and Renee Villarreal, pushed for a “timeline” to remove the infrastructure, which is only intended to be temporary. Despite their jockeying, the full council ultimately approved the agreement as originally presented. “The pandemic is our timeline,” Rich Brown, the city’s economic development director, told the governing body. “We don’t know when that’s going to end.”

The project, which will cost an estimated $90,000, has raised suspicions that it will lead to the installation of 5G cellphone technology, which still doesn’t exist in Santa Fe. But city and school officials emphasized that the hot spots are unrelated to 5G.

“That’s still aspirational for Santa Fe,” Moody said in a telephone interview before Wednesday’s virtual council meeting. “None of the providers have it here. Certainly, it’s not part of our project whatsoever. Our project doesn’t use it, and it doesn’t make it.”

Councilor Signe Lindell said the council received numerous emails about the project from concerned residents, some of which left her “dumbfounded.”

“There was one thing that stood out in those emails that I’m compelled to say out loud, and that’s the number of people that said in emails that they didn’t believe there were people in this town that don’t have internet access,” she said. “I was shocked by that. It tells me that there’s some folks who have no idea how much some of our fellow citizens are struggling.”

Tom Ryan, the school district’s chief information and strategy officer, said the free Wi-Fi on school campuses is designed to help students “get to their educational resources” as well as access general information about what’s happening in the world.

“We have about 550 kids that said that they need internet access,” Ryan said. “We also have teachers, some of which their spouse has lost their job due to the closing of businesses, etcetera, that can’t afford or can no longer afford internet.”

Follow Daniel J. Chacón on Twitter @danieljchacon.

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(6) comments

Stefanie Beninato

And now we find out the city is going to have to cut its budget and it will affect residents--not just those highly paid do nothing posts--how about a 10 percent salary cut for anyone making over 100K per year at the city? That should help and Webber should stop trying to look good on national issues and start helping the productive members of this community--you know the working and middle class.

William Craig

“... city and school officials emphasized that the hot spots are unrelated to 5G. ‘That’s still aspirational for Santa Fe,’ Moody said ...”

Actually SF already has 5G transmitters — they just haven’t been activated yet.

There is already good 4G coverage all over town, and all students are presumed to have their own devices even if they don’t have wi-fi. Providing them with SIM cards for cellular data would let them access the internet from anywhere — no hot spot required.

Stephen Hauf

[sad] How about sticking to the subject? Your RedHat jab at the Superintendent is not appreciated. Thank you for paying your property taxes that supply the computers needed to support online education.

Stefanie Beninato

So sorry you are offended by my comments on Veronica Garcia. Don't have any idea of what your "red hat" remark refers to--not MAGA I hope. This is a public comment site. The comment is relevant since the schools are seemingly crying poverty about making internet available to its students while using city funds ($90K). That 90K could go for PPEs or for food for those in need if the city is being so generous (of course--not to sole proprietors)

Stefanie Beninato

How is this going to work when there is social distancing? Kids need the connectivity the entire time they are doing the lesson. Are they going to be in the school? Or are they and their parents going to sit in a car for hours? And you are telling me that people with cell phones have no internet connection? And people who can get unemployment for an additional 13 weeks (almost 9 months) and 13 weeks they will get $600 extra cannot afford $6-20 month for internet? The city is not going to turn off water for failure to pay and the courts are not evicting people. It seems that with the extra $600/week from the feds that anyone of these unemployed can afford the internet for their smartphone. And why is the head of the public schools Veronica Garcia not stepping up? Too busy sheltering in place in ABQ to care about her responsibilities here? Anyone who was not working during spring break to get distance learning going does not deserve the position or the salary. HEY SCHOOL BOARD--try hiring someone who lives in town next time and use your own money for your students' internet access--I already pay way too much in property taxes especially for the seven plus charter schools. Schools have their own IT budgets--let them use those funds--not the city's.

Stephen Hauf

Furthermore- Many teachers and administrators can afford to live in Santa Fe which has cost living almost as high a Long Island New York. 38% of my net salary goes to pay rent. For new teachers on the low end of the pay scale, it's much worse and in fact completely unaffordable for them to live in Santa Fe where rents of less of $1,000 dollars per month are unheard of.

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