The City of Seattle has completed upgrading public wi-fi equipment at 26 Seattle Parks and Recreation Community Centers, and it’s already helping thousands of users. The increased access points were installed as part of the City’s Digital Equity Action Plan with support from Google. The City has seen wi-fi usage more than double in the past year with this addition of more and higher quality access points. Over 16,000 devices (16,166) connected in November, up from 7441 in November, 2015. The public wi-fi spots are especially valuable for low-income families who have no internet at home or are on limited data plans, and the homeless, who rely on wi-fi as a lifeline to look for work, complete homework, access health information, or stay in touch with family.
The community center upgrade project also enhanced capacity for digital literacy programming by replacing 49 computers in Community Center technology labs that provide public access and training at Delridge, Rainier, Rainier Beach, South Park and Yesler.
These improvements help ensure digital equity and opportunity in lower income neighborhoods. The robust upgrade expanded coverage so that users can connect in lobbies as well as in meeting and activity rooms at the community centers. The wi-fi expansion has been a classic case of If you build it, they will come. User rates have skyrocketed at several of the sites. Danisha, a parent at Rainier Beach Community Center reports: “Not only do I get to watch my kids play basketball at the gym, I can now get online for social networking and check my work email.”
“We’ve seen an increase in the number of participants that come into the center just to use the wi-fi which, in turn, leads to conversations about what’s offered at the Jefferson Community Center,” said Doreen Deaver, Recreation Coordinator at the Jefferson Community Center. “Overall, it has been very good for interest in our programs.”
Installation of the expanded service was led by Seattle Information Technology, the Associated Recreation Council, and Seattle Parks and Recreation. The system is using Cisco Meraki devices, with internet service currently provided in most sites by Comcast and by Wave Broadband in their service area. The expanded wi-fi provides another opportunity for users to connect to Seattle.gov, use the wi-fi for civic participation, or get online to sign up for programs at the Community Centers. For those without devices, the community centers also offer public internet kiosk computers.