Ever since Tom Kosta founded Peak WiFi with the goal of bringing speedy wireless internet to rural areas in SLO County, he's hoped to one day use his company and profits to help cultivate an interest in technology among kids on the Central Coast.
- File Photo By Jayson Mellom
- CONNECTED Arroyo Grande resident Tom Kosta founded Peak WiFi with the goal of helping rural communities access adequate wireless internet services. Now he's setting up free WiFi in public spaces for students amid the pandemic.
He generally envisioned—and still does—expanding his commercial facility and creating a space for local robotics clubs or kids' tech classes. But when COVID-19 hit locally and SLO County schools shifted from in-person instruction to distance learning in mid-March, Kosta realized his chance to make a difference had arrived.
Through much of the end of last school year, Kosta heard stories of families scrambling to get enough computers and mobile devices for their children to use for school. He heard about school districts quickly distributing Chromebooks and internet hotspots to families and teachers in need.
It made Kosta sad to think that some kids would fall behind in school just because their parents can't afford adequate internet services, something that he said is crucial to modern life.
"It's just heartbreaking for me," Kosta said, "because I'm such a technologist."
So Kosta, an Arroyo Grande resident, reached out to Arroyo Grande City Councilmember Lan George and suggested they team up to provide free community Wi-Fi for students in various locations throughout the city, like parks and Laundromats and gyms. Together, Kosta and George launched the Reach 2 Teach Initiative, which aims to do just that.
At a meeting on Aug. 11, the Arroyo Grande City Council approved an agreement with Peak WiFi authorizing the installation and operation of a free Wi-Fi system at Elm Street Park—at no cost to the city. Kosta and his team installed the Wi-Fi on Aug. 17, and it will be available there until further notice.
Then Grover Beach joined the initiative, agreeing at a special meeting on Aug. 24 to allow for the installation of free Wi-Fi in Grover Heights Park. Kosta said if the existing locations are successful, he hopes to expand the program and offer free or discounted Wi-Fi to other cities, parks, and businesses willing to participate.
"My goal is to have it there for the kids," Kosta said. "I don't need to make a lot of money off of it. This is not about the money."
For Arroyo Grande Councilmember George, the Reach 2 Teach Initiative is all about helping local families and schools get through the pandemic however possible. As a mother of a child in the Lucia Mar Joint Unified School District, George knows how stressful and challenging distance learning can be, even with all the appropriate technology. She can only imagine how difficult it must be for those without.
"We know Wi-Fi is an issue," George told New Times.
It's not just those without Wi-Fi who struggle, she said, it's also those with wireless internet services that are slow or might not be able to handle the amount of people working from home in one house. According to data collected by the California Department of Education in 2018, it's possible that up to 39 percent of Lucia Mar students lack adequate wireless internet access.
George said she hopes local businesses will also partner with the Reach 2 Teach initiative as word gets out, but for now, the parks are a great place for local families to go to get out of the house and get some work done too.
"So really it's an all in one," George said, "where kids can play and learn."
• The city of Grover Beach is offering a second round of micro grants to businesses impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Through the program, Grover Beach businesses will be able to apply for up to $5,000 in one-time financial assistance—paid for by $125,000 in CARES Act funds—to help fund employee salaries, commercial rent, personal protective gear, and other necessities. Applications will be available online until Sept. 18.
• On Sept. 19, El Camino Homeless Organization (ECHO) residents and staff are hosting the ninth annual Long Walk Home event, a march that represents the walk that people facing homelessness make every day in their search for permanent housing. After the march, ECHO is hosting a drive-through barbecue meal at the ECHO campus from noon to 3 p.m. Tickets are available online at echoshelter.org/long-walk-home. Δ
Staff Writer Kasey Bubnash wrote this week's Strokes and Plugs. Send tidbits to firstname.lastname@example.org.