ASU program provides Maryvale students with free high-speed internet access

Jan 21, 2022, 4:45 AM | Updated: 8:32 am
Kim Medina Rios (middle) is part of the ASU’s One Square Mile Initiative, which provides free int...
Kim Medina Rios (middle) is part of the ASU’s One Square Mile Initiative, which provides free internet to families in Phoenix's Maryvale neighborhood. Every month, teams go knocking on doors to let residents know this is available to them. (Photo/One Square Mile Initiative)
(Photo/One Square Mile Initiative)

PHOENIX — When learning switched from being in the classroom to online at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic, many students in the west Phoenix community of Maryvale were left in the dark due to a lack of internet access.

Arizona State University’s One Square Mile Initiative stepped in to help after becoming aware that so many students in the area lacked access to the internet through the Isaac Elementary School District.

“The superintendent called and said, ‘We’ve done a lot of things,”’ said Erik Cole, the director of Design Studio for Community Solutions at ASU’s Watts College, which houses the initiative.

“‘We’ve put hotspots out. We’ve put devices out, and we still are concerned that there are kids who are not connecting to the internet for class.’”

Cole tells KTAR News 92.3 FM he then reached out to the university’s technology office. They agreed to team up and provide free high-speed internet to families in a mobile home park and are now expanding to others nearby.

“As long as people will let us come in, do the installation, then we are able to connect them,” he said.

About 40% of homes within the boundaries of the Isaac Elementary School District lack access to the internet. That’s compared with nearly 11% for Maricopa County and the national average of 14%.

Despite the need, convincing Maryvale residents to sign up for the free internet hasn’t been easy.

Every month, a group of ASU students and staff knock on doors in Maryvale to let residents know the program is available to them.

ASU student Kim Medina Rios recalled they were met with skepticism the last time they went out.

“We reassured them that this was completely free, that there’s no hidden agenda and we’re just here to help,” she said. “A lot of people did think it was too good to be true.”

Rios grew up in Maryvale and didn’t have internet in her home until she was in high school. She remembers going to McDonald’s every time she needed Wi-Fi. Still, she was shocked to learn how many Maryvale residents didn’t have internet access.

“When we began to canvas, I was expecting more people to have internet access,” she said. “I was surprised to see that so many people did not. And if they did, a lot of it was like a hotspot from a school that could only be used on a single computer.”

She now feels a big responsibility to help Maryvale residents, especially because of how important internet access has become during the pandemic.

“In a time like this, internet is so important for anything in life, whether it’s to communicate with other people or using Google as a search engine for important things or job applications,” she said. “Internet is a necessity.”

She also feels grateful to be able to give back to the community she said gave her so much growing up.

“I grew up not having a lot of money, so my family always kind of relied on the help of others,” she said. “So coming from poverty, it feels amazing being able to be on the other side. It feels amazing seeing the families you’re helping.”

A few dozen families in Maryvale now have internet in their homes thanks to the One Square Mile Initiative. The goal is to help at least 200 more.

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ASU program provides Maryvale students with free high-speed internet access