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Partnership extending online access in Richland County

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A new partnership between Richland Library and Columbia Housing is providing wireless connectivity for Richland County residents without access to online services.

The Home-Spot program will circulate 65 Wi-Fi hotspots to 26 resident communities through July 2021. Richland Library representatives delivered the “My-Fi” internet activators to Columbia Housing for distribution earlier this month, Tony Tallent, Richland Library chief program and innovation officer, said.

“The Friday that I delivered those packets was probably one of the most satisfying days during this pandemic,” Tallent said. “We’re all aware of the almost cliché term of the digital divide during time of pandemic. We know that if you don’t have internet, you are really pretty much cut off from a lot of the world, from telehealth all the way down to being able to communicate with your loved ones.”

Funding for the initiative is provided by the McNulty Foundation and the Richland Library Friends and Foundation.

The program will also provide access to Richland Library digital resources including music, magazines and newspapers.

According to U.S. Census Bureau data from 2014 to 2018, 13.8% of S.C. households did not have a computer, while 24.7% did not have a broadband internet subscription.

Lack of wireless access has created issues as state schools have shifted to online learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. S.C. Superintendent of Education Molly Spearman has said that schools were unable to locate as many as enrolled 16,000 students once classes went virtual.

“It’s one of the things that we’ve kept in mind, is how to help parents with children that don’t have the internet and were just completely off the grid from March onward,” Tallent said.

Tallent, who said a prototype of the Home-Spot initiative was in the planning stages before the pandemic, said the library hopes to expand the one-year pilot program.

Reach Melinda Waldrop at 803-726-7542.

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