The digital divide negatively affects many rural and underserved communities. While these areas wait for network infrastructure to catch up to their needs, many communities are coming up with their own solutions to connect to the internet. If you’re looking for inspiration to help close your own community’s digital divide, here are three unique ways communities are connecting to the internet.
In some communities, students only have access to the internet at school. This can be a big problem if students are assigned homework that requires them to access information online. Many schools have also moved to online homework submission. For students without home internet access, handing in assignments on time can be difficult. Some schools that recognize the challenges their students face have taken steps to provide internet access for students by installing wi-fi hotspots in school buses. These wi-fi enabled buses are the ultimate mobile hotspot for schools, providing speeds fast enough to download or upload assignments, send emails, and more. Buses equipped with hotspots make it possible for students to do their homework during their daily bus rides or while traveling to and from after-school events.
These wi-fi buses aren’t limited to serving students, either. They also provide internet access to the community at large. After school hours and during weekends, many of these buses are parked in the school’s parking lot, allowing drive-up internet access. Some school districts that have identified communities most in need of internet access are even parking wi-fi buses in those neighborhoods.
Library Hotspot Lending
Libraries have long been a source of access to resources and information for the general public. In addition to books, many libraries are beginning to offer internet access in the form of library hotspot lending programs. Wi-fi hotspots for libraries can be checked out by patrons with a library card and taken home for convenient internet access. Best of all, while these hotspots may be checked out by an individual, they can be used by an entire household to do homework, send emails, or stream a movie for family night.
There are government programs that help libraries cover the cost of purchasing mobile hotspots and providing coverage, as well as companies that are dedicated to providing low-cost devices and data. For library patrons, however, checking out the hotspot device and accessing the internet is completely free. That means being able to access online job searches, homework help, or information is easier for people and communities who’d otherwise be left out.
When communities are overlooked by mainstream internet providers, it’s often a question of money. Instead of waiting for internet providers to decide to provide infrastructure, some local governments and municipalities have taken internet coverage into their own hands. Community networks are publicly owned networks that vary in size across the United States, from massive networks serving thousands of individuals to small towns connecting a few local businesses. Local communities have invested in their own telecommunication services for a variety of reasons, such as economic development and price stabilization.
Community networks are far from a perfect solution. Some states have regulations that disallow local governments from establishing their own networks, and in many cases, the initiative will have to pass a vote. In places where it is possible to establish a locally controlled network, though, it can be a great way to empower an entire community.
As the internet becomes more and more integral to our daily lives, network infrastructure is slowly beginning to match demand. Until it does, unique solutions to bridging the digital divide will continue to develop — and maybe even inform infrastructure designs.