The Washington Department of Commerce said it has set up 140 new drive-in Wi-Fi hotspots around the state and is working to more than double that number through partnerships and donations.
That builds on about 300 hotspots that are already in service at Washington State Library locations. The Department of Commerce has created a website with more information and a map of sites.
The abrupt shift to remote instruction for more than a million students across the state due to the pandemic has been especially difficult for families that lack internet access. School districts have been trying to bridge the digital divide and help students who lack technology and internet at home, but there's a big need.
“We kind of took it for granted. When you’re in the classroom, you have all that technology right in front of you,” said Doug Sells, an eighth-grade teacher in Shelton. “Then when everybody went home, we started surveying the kids, talking to kids (about) who had access and who didn’t. It was a really surprising number of how many kids actually did not have internet access.”
Many of the Wi-Fi hotspots are in library parking lots. Washington State University extension sites also are offering free Wi-Fi.
“Our libraries have always been a really critical part for students to get connected,” said State Superintendent of Public Instruction Chris Reykdal. “Interestingly, we have about 4 percent of all of our students who are homeless. So the closure has been really tough for those students to stay connected. Our libraries are an awesome part of this.”
The drive-in Wi-Fi project is partly funded by a donation from Microsoft. State dollars for broadband expansion in rural communities are also being used.