Crews from the city of Tukwila install Wi-Fi hotspot equipment on a light pole on South 144th Street. Courtesy, city of Tukwila

Crews from the city of Tukwila install Wi-Fi hotspot equipment on a light pole on South 144th Street. Courtesy, city of Tukwila

City works to remove barriers to internet access

Recently launched pilot program provides free Wi-Fi around South 144th Street.

Connecting to the internet is becoming easier in Tukwila.

On Jan. 1, the city launched a Wi-Fi pilot that provides free internet access to anyone in the area of South 144th Street between Tukwila International Boulevard and Military Road South.

Tukwila Mayor Allan Ekberg asked Joseph Todd, the city’s director of technology and innovation services, to find a way to provide internet access to city residents after seeing a need.

“When I walked the community for the mayor election, I talked to lots of residents,” Ekberg said. “One of the things I recognized was the lack of internet access for a lot of our underprivileged youth.”

That gap in access impacts students’ educational opportunities. The Tukwila School District has a one-to-one laptop program that provides a Chromebook for every student to take home.

“Those devices basically connect through the network,” said Hsian-Yu Kuo, the school district’s director of information technology. “They are pretty much not useful if you do not have an internet connection. Every student has one device, but we’ve never sent them home. We can’t send them home to students who can’t use them, and not every student has internet access. We can’t send them home because some student can do homework and some students can’t.”

Because of this, the computers purchased by the district were not being used.

“They had stacks and stacks of them sitting in the storage room,” Todd said. “Sometimes they would use them in class, but the idea with one-to-one is that you need to be able to take them home.”

Todd began researching ways to make internet access for all students a reality and came across LinkNYC, a program that provides free Wi-Fi to millions of users in New York City.

“They were taking all their old phone booths and creating them into Wi-Fi hotspots,” Todd said.

With an initial investment of $16,000 from the city’s technology and innovation services general fund, Tukwila set up nine hotspots. The hotspots are on city infrastructure utility poles along South 144th Street.

The school district identified the area around South 144th Street as having the highest concentration of students without internet access, many living in apartments.

While the area for the pilot program is small, it serves about 600 to 700 students.

“This is a big deal,” Todd said. “Now you can go home with a Chromebook and have internet access. You don’t have to be camping around Starbucks or the library to be able to get access to the internet.”

The city sent out information to residents in the area of the pilot program with instructions of how to connect to the network. Anyone who is in the area of the pilot program can access the internet for free.

Todd hopes to monetize the internet service through advertising.

“Though the clicks we get the money back,” Todd said. “We will take that money from the clicks and use that to expand the service.”

If the program pays off, the revenue could be used to install more access points throughout the city, and it could eventually expand to all residential areas throughout the city, said Rachel Bianchi, the city’s communications and government relations manager.

If service is expanded, the city’s police and fire departments could also use the network, Todd said. Currently, public safety programs use cellular data devices to connect to the internet.

The city plans to monitor usage to see what sites are being visited and if students are using the connection for school.

“Our whole goal is to fundamentally change and improve the access for kids so they can use it for school,” Bianchi said. “We want to make sure – as we are doing this – it is being used in the way that we think it is being used. Like any pilot program, you are going to establish the effectiveness of how many people are using it.”

The city is also working with Verizon to provide MiFi devices to students in other areas of the city where the Wi-Fi is not available. MiFi devices provide internet connection using cellular data.

The school district has selected 100 students for an after-school program where the devices will be provided.

“They are looking at them as having the most need, so we are going to start with that,” Todd said.

Kuo said Foster High School is surveying students to see how many have internet access before it begins deploying the laptops.

“If we want to send them home, we want to make sure students have internet access,” Kuo said. “We can’t have students singled out because they don’t have internet.”

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How to connect

Anyone in the area of South 144th Street between Tukwila International Boulevard and Military Road South can connect to the internet through free hotspots.

To connect:

• Go to the Wi-Fi settings on any device and join the SSID Tukwila Community WiFi.

• Once connected, read and accept the terms to the user license agreement.

For questions or feedback, contact wifi@tukwilawa.gov.

Learn more about the future of IT in Tukwila at futureit.tukwilawa.gov.

The city of Tukwila recently launched a pilot program that provides free Wi-Fi access along South 144th Street between Tukwila International Boulevard and Military Road South. Courtesy, city of Tukwila

The city of Tukwila recently launched a pilot program that provides free Wi-Fi access along South 144th Street between Tukwila International Boulevard and Military Road South. Courtesy, city of Tukwila

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