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It has become increasingly apparent that to feel safe, while COVID-19 looms, people will have to rely on technology for their social and professional means. Luckily, altruistic thinkers have sprung into action in order to make access and know-how more widespread. 

Nowadays, an internet connection is necessary to keep up with work or school, and with unemployment being where it is, the extra bill may be difficult for some to pay each month. 

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Some may make do by sitting outside the public library on a sunny morning with their laptop; or in the parking lot of their school during a downpour.

Brett Lear with Garfield County Public Library (GCPL) does not see the lack of at home internet service as a disparity brought on solely by COVID-19, but the quarantine period has certainly made the demand for public internet access skyrocket — not to mention that the fall semester is just around the corner and most curriculums will likely rely, at least partially, on online methods of instruction. 

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Due to these concerns GCPL launched its “WiFi to Go!” initiative which aims to link those in need, to the interweb with wifi hotspots available for checkout at all six of its locations.

Within the first few days of having the hotspots available, Lear was pleased to see that two thirds of the units had already been checked out. GCPL shares 60 hotspots between its six branches.  

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“Right now if you look at the county-wide census data, one out of five families still don’t have internet at home,” said Lear, “and of people who do have internet at home up to 60 percent of those families say it’s spotty at best.” 

“Providing wifi hotspots is something that we thought of doing for a while, but up until 6A passing we certainly didn’t have the funding to do so,” Lear states. 6A passed in 2019, upping GCPL’s budget which they intended from the beginning to use to enhance technological access for the community. 

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Additionally, Garfield County Board of Commissioners awarded the program $2500 out of its discretionary grant fund. Colorado Mountain College (CMC) is a contributor as well and hopes that the program will benefit some of its own students. 

CMC Rifle Campus’ Dean Tinker Duclo sees that, “Now, more than ever, lack of high speed internet can be an insurmountable barrier to attending and completing college.” CMC has obtained 10 hotspots through the program that will be available to its students. 

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COVID-19 may not have been its impetus but Lear believes the pandemic did, “Bring to the forefront how home internet access has almost become a basic human need.” 

Seniors in the loop

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Aspen Public Radio (APR) is addressing a similar concern but among a particular demographic: the elderly. Knowing that many in this category face ongoing isolation, APR has set out to provide smart speakers, such as Amazon Echos, for free to seniors on the Western Slope.

The idea is that older folks at home or in a nursing home can use the smart speaker to call their loved ones, ask encyclopedic questions and stay up to date with current events. So if your parent or grandparent is reluctant to use their iPhone that’s collecting dust, perhaps it’d be more acceptable to them to just say, “Alexa, call my daughter…” and low and behold they’re on the line. 

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It’s often the case that older folks have a hard time using the fancy gizmos of today; besides, they didn’t have the practice growing up that millennials did. Therefore APR will also train seniors how to use the smart-speakers. 

According to APR’s press release Comcast will be funding the pilot program at four local assisted living facilities which APR is working with to figure out how to best get the participants comfortable using the devices.

“I’m personally invested in this program because I have a loved one who is currently in an assisted living center and I’ve seen, firsthand, how helpful smart speakers have been in combating loneliness. It’s truly been a godsend for my family, and our organization is indebted to Comcast for funding this opportunity,” says Aspen Public Radio executive director Tammy Terwelp.

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