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San Mateo County expanded its public Wi-Fi program as two free “SMC Park and Connect” sites went live this month in Redwood City and East Palo Alto.

The two new Wi-Fi access sites are located at Hoover Elementary School, 701 Charter St. in Redwood City and at the East Palo Alto City Hall at 2415 University Ave. in East Palo Alto.

People can connect to free internet at the sites, which are part of a larger digital inclusion initiative meant to help students with distance learning in four school districts: the Ravenswood City, Redwood City Elementary, Sequoia Union and La Honda Pescadero Unified school districts.

The county’s Board of Supervisors allocated $6.3 million from Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security (CARES) Act funds to the Wi-Fi initiative, which began in August by providing students with T-Mobile hotspots and Comcast Internet Essentials connections. In November, the county also installed Wi-Fi access points at the Woodland Park Apartment community in East Palo Alto.

Redwood City School District Superintendent Dr. John Baker said in a statement that he appreciated the county’s support of students’ learning.

“This initiative could not have come at a better time,” Baker said. “All of our students currently have the need to connect with their teachers online. The SMC Public WiFi Park and Connect sites create a new way for students and their families to access the internet.”

Another Park and Connect Site located at the SportsHouse sports complex, 3151 Edison Way, Redwood City, went live on Nov. 20. The fourth site at Pescadero High School will go live before year-end.

The sites were chosen based on where students had reported Wi-Fi access issues during the pandemic.

Over 600 K-12 students reported connectivity issues in school districts serving East Palo Alto, Redwood City and surrounding areas. The new site in East Palo Alto will serve 216 such students while the Redwood City sites are near 456 students needing connection.

In Pescadero, some students might have limited internet access due to its rural location.

La Honda Pescadero Unified School District Superintendent Amy Wooliever thanked the county and its community partners for its work closing the digital divide on the South Coast.

“The Park and Connect site for the Pescadero community provides valuable connectivity to an area lacking in basic internet infrastructure,” Wooliever said. “Pescadero students can utilize the Park and Connect for learning after hours and our local students and other community members now have reliable, 24-hour access to free Wi-Fi.”

The connectivity initiative is supported by the county’s Office of Education, the four school districts mentioned above, property owners, technology service providers and telecommunications services.

More information about the project can be found on the county’s website.