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Washington County Turns Buses into Mobile Hot Spots

Pierce County Transit will dispatch buses to two locations in the county as part of a pilot program to provide free Wi-Fi hot spots. The locations were chosen by Pierce County Emergency Management based on need.

by Allison Needles, The News Tribune / April 24, 2020
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(TNS) — Students in Pierce County having difficulty connecting to the Internet during school closures have a new resource at their disposal.

Starting Thursday, Pierce Transit will dispatch buses to two locations in the county as part of a pilot program to provide free Wi-Fi hot spots.

“Students and their caregivers will park near the bus and connect to the bus’s Wi-Fi to interact with teachers, conduct assignment research, upload or download assignments or conduct other types of school work,” according to a press release from Pierce Transit.

Students will not enter the buses and also must adhere to social distancing guidelines. Pierce Transit buses have a Wi-Fi range of 100 feet.

Wi-Fi will be available 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Monday through Friday. The pilot program runs through May 3.

The buses will be located at:

Lakewood Towne Center parking lot behind Target and Barnes & Noble

Roy “Y” Park & Ride at state Route 507 and Pacific Avenue South in Spanaway

The locations were chosen by Pierce County Emergency Management based on need, according to Pierce Transit, within Clover Park and Bethel school districts.

Pierce Transit recognizes that providing online instruction can have inequitable education experiences, particularly for students who do not have regular or reliable Internet access.

“A 2019 study of Broadband Access and Speed in Pierce County found that nearly 18 percent of Pierce County households have only low-speed Internet access, and 3.2 percent have no access at all,” according to Pierce Transit. “This disconnect means students from many low-income households cannot easily access digital classrooms or lessons required to complete their online learning experience.”

In Bethel schools, students have their own devices, but that doesn’t mean they have access to the Internet at home. The Bethel School District stretches across 200 square miles, with some of its 20,000 students commuting from more rural parts of Pierce County that may have difficulties with Internet access.

“We’re excited that our community was selected to be part of this pilot project,” Bethel School District spokesperson Doug Boyles said in an email. “We are also adding access points to many of our schools, and will be sharing information about how students and parents can access those on Friday.”

©2020 The News Tribune (Tacoma, Wash.) Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.

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