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Texas County Targets Digital Divide With Chromebooks, Hot Spots

Harris County Public Library has been supplying residents with free Google Chromebooks and T-Mobile 5G hot spots since February. So far some 40,000 hot spots and 15,000 laptops have been distributed.

(TNS) — About 120 people gathered at the Cuney Homes Community Center as the temperatures plummeted Thursday evening to receive free Chromebooks, a holiday gift that Harris County leaders hope will help bridge the digital divide.

Harris County Public Library launched the effort in February, using funding from the American Rescue Plan Act. The program has helped distribute 40,000 T-Mobile 5G MiFi hot spots with unlimited data and 15,000 Google Chromebooks.

To reach the intended population, the organizers knew they had to find them offline. They spread the word by posting flyers near Cuney Homes with information about how to sign up.

"This is an important step in bridging the digital divide in the Third Ward community. It unfortunately is one of those communities that is left behind," County Commissioner Rodney Ellis said. "Internet has become vital during the global pandemic, and they are not luxury items."

About 46,000 students in Harris County do not have access to technology such as laptops and broadband, according to the county.

"Computers and Internet connectivity are the necessary tools to make sure our children can continue to learn," Ellis said. "Once you get a laptop, kids don't lose it. It's going to be the key to a better life."

Natasha Austin, a student at Houston Community College, said the new Chromebook is going to be a game changer in her household. Austin, who is studying to become a teacher, shares the one computer in her home with her 12-year-old daughter, who often needs it for school.

Right now she works as a caregiver, but she says teaching is her passion. "I just really love kids," she said.

Allisha Benjamin is job hunting and thinks her new Chromebook will be helpful for virtual interviews. Her current laptop is from the early 2000s and doesn't have a camera, which is a must for many virtual interviews.

"I'm excited. It'll be for me and my son," she said.

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