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WiFi hotspots in Washington a priority for WSU Extensions

 

Last updated 5/13/2020 at 9:08am



The COVID-19 pandemic has shone a light on the internet needs of rural Washington in particular. 

In Washington, nearly one in 10 rural residents lack access to high-speed broadband, according to Washington State University Extension. Nationally, about 15 percent of rural Americans are offline.” 

WSU is taking part in the Drive-In WiFi Hotspots project partnered with multiple agencies including public utility districts, Washington State Library, the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction, and more. 

“Microsoft and the Avista Foundation are providing funding, and a national nonprofit contributed equipment and installation,” a description of the project on the Washington State Department of Commerce website says. The site includes a map of WiFi hotspots. 

As a land-grant college, the mission of WSU Extensions is to make education, particularly about agriculture, more accessible “so that members of the working classes could obtain a liberal, practical education,” a WSU description reads, and the Drive-In WiFi Hotspots project fits into that mission.

WSU is creating WiFi hotspots at their county and tribal extension centers across the state, as well as at libraries, schools, and community centers. 

The hotspot devices are simply plugged in and turned on, are controlled remotely, and provide a large broadband capacity so that running out is not a worry, WSU says. 

Community members are able to park outside these places and access the internet for free. 

Locally, the Grand Coulee Library is listed as a WiFi hotspot, as well as Nespelem School. 

Separately, the Grand Coulee Dam School District has also created WiFi hotspots outside of Lake Roosevelt Schools in Coulee Dam, as well as at the former middle school in Grand Coulee.

“This is critical for all members of our communities,” said Monica Babine, senior associate for WSU Extension’s Program for Digital Initiatives. 

Access has become a necessity for K-12 students whose classes are only available online, for people working from home, and for those needing online-only government services. Adding the hotspots also addresses a significant increase in telehealth due to limited in-person medical care.

The WiFi hotspots could remain after the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“The lack of Internet access doesn’t go away when COVID is over,” said Mike Gaffney, drive-in hotspots project co-leader and director of Extension’s Community and Economic Development Program Unit.

A list of WiFi hotspots can be found at http://www.driveinwifi.wa.gov. 

 

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