A plan to make free high-speed internet available in the park and parking lots surrounding the Dewey Community Center is being worked on.
The city’s information technology department is evaluating what equipment the city needs to make this happen, City Manager Bradley Ford said at a Waco City Council meeting on Tuesday. If the effort is successful at Dewey, the next step is to do the same at other community centers, libraries and facilities around the city, Ford said.
“We think of students who have to upload assignments or parents who have to apply for a job,” he said.
Kelly Palmer, a council member for District 4, whose district includes the community center at 925 N. Ninth St., said she was pleased to see announcements of city utilities in English and Spanish to help publicize the broadband option, as well as federal programs. , including the Affordable Connectivity Program which provides discounted Internet service to eligible individuals.
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“During the pandemic, we’ve really seen the digital divide exacerbated, especially in our low-income communities,” Palmer said. “To have this centered in a community center, where we already have neighbors, is a huge win.”
In an interview last week, Deputy City Manager Ryan Holt said the project grew out of a citywide study that assessed broadband availability, accessibility and affordability. in Waco, as well as whether residents needed devices and training to use them.
“We were trying to get a clear idea of the extent of broadband availability,” Holt said.
He said the study found that Waco is already “saturated” with internet service providers, but people are struggling to afford those services.
“Rather than competing with private industry…and trying to get into people’s homes with a lower cost solution, we will make availability more robust in city facilities and potentially around those city facilities. “, said Holt.
Once the Wi-Fi setup is in place in Dewey, the city will begin measuring the number of people using it. He said that because all of the city’s facilities are on the same fiber optic ring, the city has identified more community centers that would be ideal for similar programs in the future.
“(Dewey) was chosen because of the campus layout, his availability for the neighborhood, his availability for the park,” Holt said. “It’s quite unique. We feel like if we’re successful at that one…it’ll show us both a park setting and a community center setting.
While the initial setup will cover the area immediately around the community center, the city’s information technology department is also researching technology that would broadcast the signal to surrounding neighborhoods, Holt said.