Virtual fundraiser aims to help DeKalb residents get access to Wi-Fi

The coronavirus pandemic has shined a light on how vital home internet access has become, exposing the digital divide among communities.

To address the issue, the DeKalb Library Foundation changed the focus of its annual fundraiser to try to increase access to hot spots, according to a news release.

The effort, named “Stay Home and Support the Library," will support the DeKalb County Public Library’s “Take the Internet Home with You” initiative, which provides Wi-Fi hot spot devices that can be checked out for free for 21 days. All you need is a library card.

From schoolwork to remote work duties, the county’s library system has highlighted internet access as a crucial need for its residents. According to U.S. Census data, about 17% of DeKalb residents do not have home internet. In addition, data collected by the Georgia Broadband Deployment Initiative found that 2% of DeKalb is unserved, meaning that residents in those areas can not meet baseline upload and download speeds.

The county currently has 200 hot spots available through the program and averages 187 check-outs a month, the release said. Hot spots are able to provide access to Wi-Fi by using cellphone towers.

The library system polled patrons who checked out hot spots in the past, and 50% of them said they get their primary internet access from one of the county’s 23 public libraries. Currently, the libraries only offer contact-free pickup services. Residents can also access free Wi-Fi at every library parking lot.

The foundation’s prior fundraisers have been in-person tapas and trivia events, which typically have about 200 attendees, DeKalb Library Foundation spokeswoman Cathy McGovern said. Last year, the event raised $30,000, which went toward a preschool program.

Since the 2020 fundraiser is virtual due to COVID-19 concerns, it will have no overhead costs, so all of the proceeds will go toward the internet accessibility initiative, the release said. The fundraiser will be active at until the end of September.

Follow DeKalb County News on Facebook and Twitter