As students shift to distance learning, having reliable, fast internet has become increasingly essential. With that in mind, Wisconsin announced a new web tool that helps users find free-to-use public broadband locations nearby. The tool, announced April 14, is intended for users whose own internet is either too slow or not available.
“Equitable access to broadband internet is crucial for children to succeed in education,” said Carolyn Stanford Taylor, state superintendent of Public Instruction. “The digital divide is even more apparent during this health emergency, and this new tool will identify internet access locations so students and their families will be able to continue learning while schools remain closed.”
In a statement, the Public Service Commission (PSC) of Wisconsin said that while many of the identified location buildings may currently be closed to the public, their Wi-Fi connection remains accessible. Given the social distancing guidelines in effect, PSC said users should remain in their vehicles while accessing Wi-Fi and only use it long enough to access critical services.
The new tool is the result of a collaboration between the State Broadband Office at the PSC and the Division for Libraries and Technology at the Department of Public Instruction to collect and map Wi-Fi location data. Currently, there are nearly 450 Wi-Fi locations identified statewide, and PSC and DPI said the map will be updated regularly with new locations.
“This pandemic underscores that access to broadband is an essential service for daily life, not a luxury,” said Rebecca Cameron Valcq, chairperson of the PSC. “It’s unfortunate that families have to get into their cars and travel in order for students to continue their basic learning or for those in need to utilize telemedicine. Broadband offers the ability to connect when connectivity is needed the most.”