Wash.’s Pierce Transit is launching a pilot program to provide free mobile Wi-Fi hot spots for students who do not have reliable Internet access but still need to complete remote school assignments during Washington’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” order.
Schools across Washington are closed for the remainder of the school year due to the COVID-19 outbreak. However, schools are still providing online instruction, which can create inequitable educational experiences for students who do not have regular, reliable Internet access. A 2019 study of Broadband Access and Speed in Pierce County found that nearly 18% of Pierce County households have only low-speed Internet access, and 3.2% have no access at all. The disconnect means students from many low-income households cannot easily access digital classrooms or lessons required to complete their online learning experience.
Pierce Transit is collaborating with Pierce County Emergency Management and local school districts to provide a bus in two locations that will each become its own Wi-Fi hot spot. Students and their caregivers will park near the bus and connect to the bus’s Wi-Fi to interact with teachers, conduct assignment research, upload or download assignments, or conduct other types of schoolwork. Students will not enter the bus, and the agency will not provide student supervision. Those accessing the network must also observe social distancing guidelines. Pierce Transit buses have a Wi-Fi range of approximately 100 feet.