The Pima County Public Library is partnering with Cox to activate 70 free hotspots across the county, the first of 120 Internet access points planned to improve connectivity across the region.
The first 70 hotspots were activated on June 27 and 50 more will be launched in mid-July.
The new hotspots are part of the digital access plan of the province with short-term goals to provide rapidly available internet services while addressing digital literacy gaps and long-term plans to expand broadband infrastructure across the country.
The library hopes the free Wi-Fi service will narrow the digital divide by connecting people to other programs that provide more permanent Internet services at home, such as the Federal Communications Commission’s Affordable Connectivity Programwhich offers broadband at a discount to low-income households.
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“We’re doing this to help reach those individuals who may not be connected in their homes and don’t really know they can come to the library to get the Internet,” said Michelle Simon, deputy director of support services for the community libraries. “The whole purpose of this effort is not to give people free Internet access for the rest of their lives. It aims to help them get affordable internet access in their own homes.”
The library is paying for the program, called “Hotspots in the City,” with $720,448 reimbursed by the federal government Connectivity Emergency Fundwhich sprang from the American Rescue Plan Act to provide grants to schools and libraries for distance learning during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Pima County Board of Supervisors approved the contract with Cox on April 5 to fund the hotspot program for three years. The first 70 hotspots already existed for Cox customers to access with their own membership logins. Now anyone can access the internet access points by connecting to the library’s Wi-Fi, called “PCPLonTheGo”.
The next 50 hotspots are for rural assembly centers such as Canoa Preserve Park in Green Valley and the Three Points Veterans Memorial Neighborhood Park.
Five Boys and Girls Club of Tucson locations will also receive Internet service, which CEO Denise Watters said will enhance the wide range of programs it offers to young people, in addition to serving the surrounding communities.
“We’re thrilled to be able to provide the hotspot because our mission is to be in these neighborhoods where the kids need us most, and the community and families that come with it,” Watters said. “It’s not just the club kids, it’s the families and the community around those clubs that need us.”
The county’s plan is to eventually implement critical infrastructure projects, supported by utilities and public safety agencies, to expand countywide broadband access by 10% in each district.
For now, the library is building a public relations campaign to educate community members about the new Wi-Fi services and eventually enable them to receive Internet access at home.
“(The hotspots) will lead people to get involved with the library, where we can help them connect to resources, the Affordable Connectivity Program, and help them fill those applications so that if they qualify for grants , they not only qualify for grants for internet services, but possibly a device,” said Simon. “This thing will be funded for three years, but we’ll figure out a way to make it sustainable.”
For a map of available hotspots in the province, visit: bit.ly/3ae8iCt
Contact reporter Nicole Ludden at [email protected]