By ERIN STEWART
Connectivity is key to building our community! I am very excited to announce that through a coordinated effort between the City of New Britain and the Consolidated School District of New Britain, we have made student access to free and expanded city WiFi a priority. To date, three locations throughout the City of New Britain have been wired for initial or expanded access, the City Health Department, Willow Street Park and the New Britain Public Library.
This initiative, overseen by The School Technology Task Force, was established in early May with the goal of connecting CSDNB students to the internet - an effort to help facilitate distance learning in the age of coronavirus. The work of the task force is being funded by a generous CARES Act grant to the school district with additional support being provided by the staffs of the city and CSDNB. The IT Department at City Hall has worked very closely with the CSDNB staff on making the goal of the task force a reality, working in unison to address the connectivity issues facing multiple school-age families in New Britain.
Internet access is an essential tool for our students, especially during these challenging times due to the pandemic. This plan is critical to making sure our students stay connected, remain engaged and continue working towards their future. The WiFi antennas being installed will push out a signal close to 1,000 feet, servicing not only our students, but potentially other residents in need of connectivity. This is another benefit of this great program.
Our New Britain Public Library team is optimistic their new expanded free WiFi will help attract new visitors to the library and provide a safer environment to guests. The expanded WiFi network at the library will help encourage social distancing by offering a wider-range WiFi signal throughout the building.
The task force is looking to expand WiFi access to 20 additional locations by the end of the calendar year. Currently, the task force is working with Comcast to provide internet essentials service to identified student households in need of immediate internet access for this school year.
Signal devices that provide WiFi signal will soon be installed in several more locations across New Britain. These locations include: select public parks, the Oak Street Police Substation, Fire Station No. 2 on South Main Street, the Senior Center, Malikowski Circle, Mount Pleasant, Washington Park, the East Side Community Center, New Britain Roots on Scarlett Drive, and New Britain HRA on Clinton Street.
Additionally, through the work of the task force, we are working to strengthen the current WIFI service at locations that provide after school care and homework assistance, such as: the YMCA, YWCA, the New Britain Boys and Girls Club, OIC, and Pathways Senderos.
Finally, the Consolidated School District of New Britain’s IT Department is working to expand the free WiFi service at each of our school buildings, pushing their signals out to reach each property’s outer perimeter and hopefully into some surrounding neighborhoods.
The City and the School District recognize the importance of connectivity. While our plan is not perfect, it’s a start within the budget and staff limitations we have to provide some access to those children who need it most. We will continue the work throughout the school year and hope to achieve further results in the coming months.
Erin Stewart is the mayor of New Britain.