New LUPE campaign hopes to connect rural residents online

With one third of the population in the Rio Grande Valley living in rural areas, now is the most important time to connect rural residents to better internet.

That’s the mission of a new campaign launched by La Union del Pueblo Entero last week which hopes to collect signatures in support of better internet services in rural south Texas.

LUPE announced the campaign-El internet es un derecho familiar-at a virtual press conference Tuesday, July 3, 2020.  

With COVID-19 still on the rise, school districts are allowing parents to let their child continue learning from home. However, if a child doesn’t have a reliable internet connection at home, they could struggle throughout the school year, LUPE community organizing Coordinator Martha Sanchez said.

“The reason we felt compelled to do this campaign is because families feel like they’re being left behind,” Sanchez said. “Their kids have been struggling learning from home this past school semester and got behind in the learning. That may happen again in the next school year.”

At the press conference, LUPE members spoke about their experience battling with internet connectivity issues in rural areas.

Maria Arias, an 11-year-old girl living in a colonia north of Edinburg, spoke about how she and several of her classmates struggle to complete their schoolwork during summer school.

Arias joined the press conference via her phone’s internet capabilities. As if to highlight her plight, her signal was so weak that static kept breaking up her statement, making it difficult to understand what she was saying. 

“I struggle with the internet, you can tell because my signal was on and off,” Arias said. “I end up doing my work on paper and can’t access the library because of fear of COVID-19, so my parents say do the best you can. But I can’t do a lot, I don’t think it’s fair. My parents work in the fields for me to get the best education and I can’t access it.”

Olivia Castro, a Mission resident, said her children also struggle with schoolwork and rely on their phone’s wireless capabilities to complete it.

“We need support, the internet is too important right now for our kids to do their homework,” Castro said. “There’s lots of colonias without the internet, it’s so important now in summer class that they have internet.”

Castro said a company offers internet accessibility to her area but she and her neighbors cannot afford it.

“It is too expensive, there’s been less work because of the pandemic so we and other families can’t afford it.  We use phones but the signal there isn’t strong either. We need help, it’s too important for our kids.”

The issues of internet availability and affordability are ones that LUPE hopes to tackle with this campaign, Sanchez said.

“It’s not about them using the internet just to browse it, they need the internet so students can complete their schoolwork,” Sanchez said, adding that several entities such as the Pharr-San Juan-Alamo school district and a grant under the Obama administration helped rural families afford internet.

“But that program was disbanded under the new presidential administration and not every student in need of the internet is part of the PSJA school district,” Sanchez said. “These fixes have been small band-aids that don’t offer a long term solution. We will require bigger solutions to solve this once and for all so all students need to have the same options.” 

Sanchez said LUPE hopes to collect thousands of signatures in support of this campaign to show elected officials in Austin in time for the next legislative session set to begin next year.

“It’s going to take a while, we are giving ourselves at least six months to see what the legislative session can do,” Sanchez said.  

To sign the petition, go to lupenet.org/internet or text PROMESA to 956-420-0093 

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