Bridging the Digital Divide: Wi-Fi Hot Spots as a Means of Digital Equity
Hansen, Mary Anne
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Many areas of the United States still fall short of digital equity and inclusion, defined as the ability of individuals to access and use information and communication technologies to participate fully in society, democracy, and the economy.1 This is especially true in Montana, the authors’ rural state. Only 63.6 percent of Montana citizens have broadband access, and the average cost of the Internet is $91.54 per month—the third highest in the nation.2 The seven American Indian reservations in the state face even more barriers to access, with some having as low as 23 percent of the population with access to broadband.3 The lack of high-speed Internet coupled with the increase of remote learning (and remote work) added stress to many college and university students’ lives as they struggled to complete their coursework during the COVID-19 pandemic. Though no campus entity gathers information about student Internet access, the Montana State University Office of Planning & Analysis reports that 61 percent of the university’s students are Montana residents, and so many face access challenges similar to the rest of the state’s population.4 To ease the digital divide and improve students’ academic success, two Montana State University librarians wrote a successful grant proposal to purchase Wi-Fi hot spots to loan to students with poor or no Internet access. The hot spots were offered to students with high need on medium to long-term checkouts and were initially marketed to programs and services on campus that work closely with underrepresented students.