Russian River Valley News

Russian River Valley News
Communication is Essential
By Vesta Copestakes
February 2024
This column has been reprinted with the permission of Neighbors of the Russian River Valley.*

From calling home to see if anything needs to be added to the grocery list – to alerting Emergency Services that they need to come NOW – our ability to call and send messages via our mobile devices while we are “downtown” in our River Valley and Coast communities got better this past year.

Bryan Hughes, Founder & Executive Director of Equitable Access California (www.eqac.org), has completed the FREE WIFI installations in Bodega, Bodega Bay, Cazadero, Forestville, Guerneville, Monte Rio, and Jenner. This program started in Guerneville and expanded throughout West Sonoma County’s rural communities thanks to the Russian River Alliance who got the ball rolling. 

Motivated by what is known as the “digital divide” where people of low income and those who live in remote areas who cannot depend upon connectivity to the internet and emergency services, EQAC provides internet access to anyone within the range of a hosted access point. 

The project is funded by grants from County, State, and Federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) budgets. EQAC anticipates applying for funding from private foundations, although government grants have been the primary funding source so far. The board of directors is all volunteer and the purchase and installation of equipment and technical support is provided through contractors working for the corporation. 

The “wireless mesh” functions outdoors through the installation of devices on the outside of buildings that allow a person to move from one area to another without losing signal as they cross from one covered zone to another. These work beautifully in our small downtowns where local businesses have agreed to installations so people can use any smartphone, tablet, or computer throughout downtowns and in our public parks if they are within range.

This need for connectivity became extreme during the Walbridge and LNU fires of 2020 and 2021. All communications were down and firefighters had no way to reach each other, evacuation information was stymied, and residents in pockets of no internet had no way of knowing how close danger was to them.

It’s easy to get access 

Open your device and go to Settings where you will find your Connections (WiFi, Bluetooth, etc.). Click on Connections to find your Available Networks. You will see EQAC PUBLIC WIFI and that “Sign-in is required”. They ask you if you are a resident of Sonoma County, select Yes or No. Since I said YES, I have no idea what happens if you say no!), then you rate how valuable the resource is from Not Very to Very Valuable.. That’s it – you are now CONNECTED! Once connected, I immediately received a text in a location where I had never had a bar on my phone before…Speers Market on Mirabel Road! Sahaj Saggu, owner of Speers, immediately saw the value of getting the extra equipment needed to set up an access point outside the downtown network. THANK YOU!

This service is incredibly valuable to our river communities, especially during emergencies, but even for students and people who don’t have internet access at home. Thank you Sonoma County, Russian River Alliance, 5th District Supervisor Lynda Hopkins, Bryan Hughes, and all the businesses who said YES to being an access point. You just made our connectivity easier in the Russian River Valley and Coast!

————————————–

Equitable Access California is a California nonprofit public benefit corporation which has been granted tax exempt status under Internal  Revenue Code section 501(c)(3). Our Federal EIN is 88-3457255 and our California corporation number is C5177117.

(707) 200-8017‬, www.eqac.org, info@eqaccessca.com

* River Valley News column will be published in the February 2024 Neighbors of the Russian River Valley (Best Version Media), a monthly magazine distributed to neighbors in the Russian River Valley. Reprinted with permission. For more info, go to their Facebook page, here.

Monthly
Board Meetings

• 1st Tuesday of mo.
• 5:30 – 7:30 PM
• In-Person at:
6550 Railroad Ave., Forestville
• Via Zoom: Get Link
• For more info, contact:
Board President,
Lucy Hardcastle
Everyone welcome.