Posted by: Ann Treacy | March 12, 2011

Wi-Fi hot spots to pop up in Stevens County MN

The other day I was looking at why people don’t get broadband at home and thinking that education and promotion was a good way to reach folks. There are some great digital literacy programs out there and I hope to feature some in upcoming blogs – but broadband (and the Internet) is largely something that can sell itself. All you have to do is provide a safe and easy place for people to go to use it– and hopefully get them interested in taking the next step.

In Stevens County Minnesota this is one strategy they are trying. The Resource Connections (strengthen the Stevens County Community through non-profit cooperation) project is putting Wi-Fi hotspots and computers in public places so that residents and visitors can get online. I think it will be a great way to reach people who just need some time to play before they want to learn more. It’s a way to provide broadband access to kids and adults who don’t have access at home. It can be a perk to travelers who just need a little cyber fix. I suspect that after getting a taste of what broadband can mean that many visitors will progress to wanting more – whether that means getting a computer or subscribing to better broadband at home. It’s a community-sponsored free trial for individuals.

The Resource Connection is one project that has been taken advantage of the University of Minnesota Morris Students in Service AmeriCorps program. Local units of government, schools, and nonprofits can apply through the Center for Small Towns to get help from UMM students. The nonprofit gets help; the students get valuable real life experience that complements the lessons they are learning in school. It’s a win-win opportunity.

I spoke with Bridget Billo, a student at University of Minnesota Morris who got involved with The Resource Connection through the AmeriCorps project last fall. It’s been a lot of strategy and planning. Five communities have been selected to house the Wi-Fi hotspots: Alberta, Chokio, Donnelly, Hancock and Morris. The specific location inside the community have mostly been decided and are at places where it will be easy for residents to gain access and places that can accommodate a computer (or two or three).

The goal is to have the hotspots up in the next 1-2 months – as Bridget pointed out to me, “There’s a lot of things that still need to be done. We need to confirm remaining hosts for these hotspots, set up the computers, and tell the communities.” Billo is also taking the lead in arranging for high school students to provide some basic introduction to broadband.

The planning continues and the excitement mounts. It will be helpful to see how the hotspots are used and whether they whet the appetite for greater learning and use of broadband.

I asked Bridget what drew her to this project..

I thought it was a great opportunity. I’m very interested in nonprofits and it was fun to learn about them and to work with them. I also think it’s a great project for Stevens County. Increasing broadband to the public holds potential for such great positive results and this project represents an excellent gift to the communities.

It will be an excellent gift indeed.


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