The state of Michigan launched an online map with locations for free Wi-Fi hotspots throughout the state to aid those without internet access.

The State of Michigan, in partnership with the Connected Nation Michigan, released a statewide Wi-Fi hotspot map on Wednesday to assist residents who currently lack internet access at home.

Some Michigan residents were left in a lurch after schools and businesses closed with students and employees completing tasks online. According to the Michigan Department of Education, more than 70 percent of the state’s students report using internet-enabled devices at home for schoolwork. But more than 28 percent of students live in homes without internet access that can support virtual learning. A Lack of broadband internet access and affordability are issues in Michigan and across the country, particularly for people living in rural areas and for communities where there is persistent poverty.

The COVID-19 pandemic and transition to remote and distance learning have only increased the need for residents and students to have easy access to broadband services. The Wi-Fi mapping effort, spearheaded by the Michigan Public Service Commission (MPSC) and Connected Nation Michigan, along with the Department of Technology, Management and Budget (DTMB) and the Michigan Department of Education, is an interim step amid the coronavirus pandemic to spotlight publicly available broadband hotspots for households without internet access.

We know that more work must be done to ensure residents and students throughout the state have accessible and affordable broadband internet service,” said MPSC Commissioner Tremaine Phillips. “Making these Wi-Fi hotspot locations easily available is an important bridge to increasing the accessibility of these critical services during this difficult time.

Michigan providers were recently awarded $22.5 million from the U.S. Department of Agriculture’s Broadband ReConnect Program aimed at expanding broadband access to unserved rural areas. There are several active programs and grants centered on increasing investment in and access to broadband in Michigan. DTMB is now administrating the Connecting Michigan Communities (CMIC) Grant Program, which will award $18 million in grants for projects that extend broadband service into unserved areas in Michigan.

Because home is now a more obvious extension of school, we need to narrow and ultimately eliminate the digital divide. While many school districts have provided devices, this online map of Wi-Fi hotspots is a great free resource for students, parents, educators, and others,” said State Superintendent Dr. Michael Rice. “Much more needs to be done, especially with connectivity, which is very expensive or inaccessible in more remote areas. As supporters of children, we need to make this resounding case to Congress to provide more federal funding to help us close the digital divide.

Residents who lack internet access at home are encouraged to follow the Centers for Disease Control and State of Michigan social distancing guidelines when utilizing these hotspots, including wearing masks in public facilities and keeping a distance of at least six feet from others not from the same household. To date, more than 300 Wi-Fi hotspot locations are available from the parking lots of public schools, libraries, and other locations across the state. In addition to the location, the map also contains details on how to access the Wi-Fi hotspots’ networks.

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