Chelan County PUD is partnering with local internet service providers (ISPs) to create WiFi access points known as “hotspots” across the county to offer free internet access. This is to help people who are coping with the impacts of the coronavirus crisis and the need for students to continue learning while schools are physically closured.
Three service providers have confirmed participation, and the plan is to have the first active hotspots in place within seven to 14 days.
PUD commissioners unanimously agreed Monday to offer bandwidth at no charge to local ISPs, which in turn will install equipment to provide free WiFi access to the internet. The firms are working with PUD Fiber staff to decide the locations. Details will be posted as soon as possible at www.chelanpud.org/hotspots.
Mike Coleman, Fiber and Telecom managing director, said there is bandwidth available for 50+ sites in communities from Malaga up the Wenatchee Valley to Lake Wenatchee/Plain and from Entiat to Chelan and Manson. (At 02:57 on the board meeting audio recording.)
The goal is to extend broadband access to students and community members without internet at home as classes move online, people need to file applications or are depending on websites and social media for vital information during the COVID-19 public health closures, Coleman said.
Commissioners endorsed the program, one of many steps Chelan PUD is taking to help its customer-owners struggling with financial hardships caused by the pandemic. Board members also delayed a planned rate increase for six months and extended no shutoffs of utility service and waiving late fees through the end of July 2020.
“The benefit of this approach is that it is free to the users, it is high impact with the ability to serve many customers in a short period of time and it is low impact on PUD crew and service provider resources,” Coleman said. The agreement authorized Monday will be in place through the end of 2020, unless conditions permit ending sooner, he said.
Coleman added that since schools have the staff and technology to offer hotspots, this effort will focus on community locations close to fiber equipment and with room for parking and social distancing. The WiFi hotspots should offer a service radius of 200-300 feet with speeds of up to 100 megabits per second, he said.
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