In a first, Gonzales, California provides free, city-funded Internet service to every home, with unique two year T-Mobile deal
By Steve Blum
Tellus Venture Associates
Special to Santa Cruz Tech Beat
April 22, 2020 — Santa Cruz, CA
Every household in Gonzales, California can get free Internet access, courtesy of the City of Gonzales. So can families that live outside the city limits that have students attending school there. So far, more than 1,200 households of the approximately 2,000 households in and around Gonzales have taken up the offer. Gonzales students can get online and use school district-provided Chromebooks to keep up with their lessons, despite being locked down during the covid–19 emergency.
As the crisis came to a head in March, the City accelerated distribution of T-Mobile hotspots to residents who needed or wanted broadband connectivity. In 2019, the Gonzales City Council approved an agreement with T-Mobile to buy up to 2,000 hotspots with unlimited Internet access (with the usual caveats about slowing down heavy users).
That deal has the City paying $12.50 per month for 24 months, for each activated hotspot. It’s a modification of a standard T-Mobile offer to schools, and includes the Gonzales Unified School District as a partner. It was negotiated after the City issued a request for qualifications in 2017. The goal, which has been largely achieved, is to provide baseline, City-funded Internet service to every home that wants it.
According to the staff report presented to the Gonzales City Council…
The T-Mobile Network in the City of Gonzales is one of the densest (3 cellular towers with 700Mhz, 1900Mhz, 2100Mhz and shortly to be released 600Mhz, covering 8,000 individuals), and underutilized network in Northern California. The Agreement requires that T-Mobile provide its best effort in delivering Wireless Internet Services well above the FCC’s Advanced Wireless Service standard of 25 Mbps Down/ 3Mbps Up.
Residents have other options. AT&T offers variable DSL service in Gonzales. After the City challenged Charter Communications in a California Public Utilities Commission proceeding in 2015, the ancient analog cable system in Gonzales was upgraded to digital capability and now supports broadband service as well.
Initial comments from families that are using the City-subsidised hotspots indicate that T-Mobile’s performance is better than AT&T can deliver, but not as good as Charter’s cable modem service. Residents had no particular problems using the hotspots and connecting to online resources and services. Any questions were handled either on an informal basis by City or school district staff, or via T-Mobile’s bilingual customer support line.
The City of Gonzales is one of my clients and I assist with the City’s broadband initiatives, including the negotiations with T-Mobile. I am not a disinterested commentator. Take it for what it’s worth.