Montgomery County has leveraged federal COVID-19 funding to install outdoor public WiFi at several Public Library (MCPL) branches. This free service is available 24 hours a day in parking lots adjacent to the library buildings.
As leaders in the fight against COVID-19, counties are expending federal relief funds to address immediate health, equity, and safety concerns, as well as to promote economic resiliency and recovery. From small business support grant programs to rental and mortgage assistance, these dollars have been critical for counties to properly respond to the pandemic.
“The COVID-19 pandemic has brought greater awareness of the impacts of the widening digital disparity, which often deprives community members of opportunities to participate in important daily-life activities such as remote learning, accessing workforce development, and employment information or staying up-to-date on news and information,” said County Executive Marc Elrich. “The work of MCPL and the Department of Technology Services (DTS) to secure funding to provide Wi-Fi availability for outside use at 11 County facilities is another step in working to ensure that all community members have equitable access to reliable connectivity.”
MCPL and the Department of Technology Services (DTS) applied for but were not awarded an Institute of Museum and Library Services federal COVID-19 grant. DTS worked to leverage other federal CARES Act COVID-19 grant funding to install the free outdoor Wi-Fi access.
“With the support of the County’s Chief Administrative Officer, we thought strategically about how we could leverage remaining federal COVID-19 funding to help families and small businesses respond to COVID-19,” said Montgomery County Chief Information Officer and Director of DTS Gail M. Roper. “Internet is essential during the pandemic and DTS is proud to work with MCPL to find ways to expand internet access for those that do not have it at home. I am also pleased that the Poolesville branch was selected to support small business owners and will also provide more internet access for rural Montgomery County.”
According to a County press release:
The 10 library branches — Aspen Hill, Davis (N. Bethesda), Gaithersburg, Germantown, Maggie Nightingale (Poolesville), Marilyn Praisner (Burtonsville), Rockville Memorial, Twinbrook, Wheaton, and White Oak branches; and in front of the Silver Spring Civic Building at Veterans Plaza — were chosen by analyzing U.S. Census and MCPL data.
Seven library branches were selected by mapping Census data neighborhoods with lower incomes and households without home internet. The Pew Research Center for Internet & Technology reported that as of 2019, 18 percent of adults with incomes less than $30,000 do not have home internet access, compared to only 2 percent of adults with incomes greater than $75,000, and 85 percent and 86 percent of Black and Hispanic adults use the internet compared to 92 percent of White adults. Median per capita income in the Census Block Groups served by the 7 libraries is $35,372 and the population is 27 percent Black and 28 percent Hispanic. Three additional locations (Davis, Rockville and Wheaton Regional) were selected because prior to the pandemic they had greater participation in MCPL small business programs.
“Small business owners who relied on MCPL indoor Wi-Fi to run their businesses asked the County for help and we were glad to assist them,” said Assistant Chief Administrative Officer for Small Economic Development Jerome Fletcher. “Small businesses are critical to County’s economy recovery and more outdoor public Wi-Fi is another way the County is offering relief to small businesses.”