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How free Wi-Fi hotspots help in emergency response situations

Emergency and disaster response require teamwork among businesses, governments and community groups. In these times, free Wi-Fi hotspots help people feel connected.

For years, debates, discussions and initiatives have tried to bridge the digital divide. In the world of broadband, the United States has long been an ebb-and-flow story of haves and have-nots.

But the coronavirus pandemic now playing out has exacerbated that reality by driving countless students, employees and even job seekers back to their homes, where good internet connectivity is not guaranteed. Thankfully, we're seeing a fairly ubiquitous response of altruism by a number of players.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) is leading the charge of keeping people connected in this difficult time with its Keep Americans Connected campaign. Hundreds of large and small network providers have signed onto the FCC's pledge and promised the following:

  1. not terminate service to any residential or small business customers because of their inability to pay their bills due to the disruptions caused by the coronavirus pandemic;
  2. waive any late fees that any residential or small business customers incur because of their economic circumstances related to the coronavirus pandemic; and
  3. open its Wi-Fi hotspots to any American who needs them.

The benefits of free Wi-Fi hotspots

Beyond the government and corporate efforts to keep people connected to vital online resources, there are countless examples of private companies and even individuals helping as they can with public and free Wi-Fi hotspots.

Public libraries are hanging out the welcome sign and Wi-Fi password for those people who can benefit from parking lot hotspots. Many restaurants are taking similar approaches and making their guest Wi-Fi available to anyone who needs it -- whether those connecting are placing takeout orders or not.

Recognizing the difficulty in reaching some K-12 students in homes with no internet, classrooms are being extended via TV by local stations. Even individuals with unlimited data plans on their mobile hotspots are helping their neighbors in need to connect for school, telemedicine and online ordering of essentials.

In my experience, the coordinated show of empathy and service to others by so many in the technology sector is absolutely unprecedented -- and exactly what is needed right now.

This was last published in April 2020

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