OC Public Libraries launches program to boost internet access in underprivileged communities
In an effort to empower underprivileged communities, Orange County Public Libraries launched a WiFi on Wheels program this week to increase internet access in neighborhoods that lack broadband.
A trailer with a 32-foot antenna will be parked in pre-planned locations in Midway City and Westminster to provide internet access for up to 150 users within a 300-yard radius.
The pilot program will expand to San Juan Capistrano, Stanton, La Habra and La Palma in the next few months.
The effort is all the more critical as COVID-19 forces work and school online.
“When COVID-19 prompted the closure of schools, we witnessed a spike in demand for broadband connectivity,” said county Board of Supervisors Vice Chair Andrew Do. “Low-income families, in particular, have been most severely affected; many students have had to rely on their parents’ smartphones for their schoolwork.
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“To alleviate some of the burden for families, I met with county departments back in April to create the Internet Access Initiative: Bridging the Digital Divide.”
The county library’s Internet Access Initiative is a three-pronged plan which also includes lending Wi-Fi hotspots for patrons to take home to access free data and boosting the Wi-Fi signal on the outside of county libraries onto sidewalks, patios, grassy areas and parking lots.
County Librarian Julie Quillman said libraries have for years been working on getting the internet to their patrons who cannot afford broadband subscriptions in order to bridge the “digital divide.”
“The library has long known that this was a problem way before the pandemic,” Quillman said. "... A lot of our patrons are at the wrong end of the digital divide. We provide patrons with internet and computers in the branches. They are filled every single day with people who do not have a computer or access to the internet at home.
“And, you know, they range from people applying for jobs or just surfing the internet, but also a lot of kids doing homework.”
There is currently one trailer in operation, but the library is planning to add another.
Library staff will remain onsite with the trailer when visiting a neighborhood to answer questions and provide information to residents. Children’s and job-search books in English, Spanish and Vietnamese can also be rented from the vehicle.
The WiFi on Wheels trailer was launched on Tuesday, though poor weather conditions including wind and heavy smoke due to Orange County fires caused the program to halt momentarily.
Quillman said they are hoping to get the trailer back out as soon as possible this week.
The WiFi on Wheels vehicle will be at DeMille, Schmitt, Fryberger and Willmore elementary schools, as well as Sid Goldstein Freedom Park at select times.
For more information on the schedule, visit ocpl.org.
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