$2.5MM digital divide project full speed ahead

Free computer signup under way; City seeking Wi-Fi spots
COVINGTON, Ky. - A few weeks in, and “Covington Connect” is surging forward.
Families of Covington schoolchildren who need a computer can now register to get a free one, thanks to the $2.5 million initiative whose goal is to destroy the digital divide in Northern Kentucky’s largest city.
The City and six high-profile partners announced the initiative with fanfare in early July as leaders pledged to demolish a fundamental obstacle to economic opportunity for some of its families - the lack of ready and reliable internet access.
Several weeks later, officials are acting to accomplish both of Covington Connect’s key strategies:
  • Getting free computers into the hands of about 1,900 families.
  • Expanding Wi-Fi access in areas that serve the most Covington schoolchildren. 
“There is a lot to be done and many incremental steps along the way, but we’re moving quickly to make this a reality,” Assistant City Manager Bruce Applegate said.
The benefits of Covington Connect will reverberate throughout people’s daily lives, allowing children to access school lessons from home and families to access everything from telehealth to higher education to banking to employment applications.
Joining the City in the collaborative effort are Cincinnati Bell, the Housing Authority of Covington, Covington Independent Public Schools, local computer firms Blair Technology Group and ReGadget, and Comp-U-Dopt, a Houston-based non-profit organization.
Free computers
Comp-U-Dopt has set up a website for families to register for a free computer, HERE. Families must have at least one child in preschool through 12th grade in a school in Covington and must not already have a working computer in their home.
The computers include desktops, laptops, Chromebooks and other devices, and have been refurbished by ReGadget or Blair Tech.
It’s a lottery system, not a waiting list. Organizers hope to provide computers to up to 1,900 families, but that will depend on both the supply and the demand.
The first group will be picked Aug. 24, with the first distribution at a makeshift drive-thru site in Latonia the first week of September, said Jon Adkins, the director of resident services for the housing authority.
“We’re encouraging people to apply as soon as possible,” Adkins said. “It literally will take you 3 to 4 minutes to apply. It’s very, very quick and very simplistic.”
Families need to have a working cell phone, since notification will come via text, he said.
Adkins said about 20 agencies and organizations are working together to get the word out, including HAC, the school system, The Center for Great Neighborhoods, the Kenton County Public Library, Esperanza Latino Center, and the Northern Kentucky Community Action Commission.
Anybody with questions can contact Adkins at or (859) 655-7316.
Meanwhile, the site includes a link for people, companies, and foundations to make a tax-deductible financial contribution to Comp-U-Dopt to help pay the estimated $400,000 cost of the computers.
The organization has done or is doing similar giveaways in cities like Chicago, Dallas, Houston, and New Orleans. It chose Covington because of its relationship with ReGadget and Blair Tech, two sister companies based in Latonia. Blair Tech is the nation’s leading authorized refurbisher of Microsoft products.
“We’re excited to get to work with all of these groups and companies because it enables us to use our expertise to help the community around us,” said Kurt Reynolds, co-owner of ReGadget and CFO of Blair Tech.
Wi-Fi infrastructure
Meanwhile, progress is also being made on improving internet connectivity in Covington. The multi-pronged effort includes creating about 125 Wi-Fi “hotspots” in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods (which in some cases requires running fiber), and parallel efforts to “connect” specific communities. 
  • The housing authority has signed a contract with Cincinnati Bell to bring internet access to every apartment in the Latonia Terrace and City Heights complexes, Adkins said, and workers are installing equipment now. “This is huge,” he said. 
  • The downtown business group Renaissance Covington is also working with Cincinnati Bell to expand Wi-Fi access to neighborhood business districts in MainStrasse Village, at Ritte’s Corner in Latonia, and along the 12th Street corridor, Applegate said. 
  • Cincinnati Bell is preparing to run new fiber to two areas of the city - on the east side and west side - that currently lack that infrastructure. 
  • And in “bubbles” spread from Latonia to the Ohio River, the City is working to identify buildings where small devices can and need to be installed to create the “hotspots,” said Pete Bales, an expert who was recently hired by the City to coordinate the Covington Connect initiative. 
Covington Mayor Joe Meyer will send a letter to targeted property owners in the next week or so asking them to consider letting the equipment be installed on the exterior of their building in exchange for free Wi-Fi.
Bales said getting the agreements completed quickly is important because the federal funds paying for the effort need to be spent by the end of the year.
“The project is happening, and it’s happening right away,” he said. “Time is of essence. We can start deploying these devices as soon as we get permission from the property owners. We’re asking that they read the letter and follow up with the City in a timely manner so we can start filling in these connectivity gaps and help our families.”
Meyer said being able to access the internet is increasingly a “must” to navigate and get ahead in today’s world.
“Think about it: people go online to shop, deposit checks, get paid, pay rent, apply for a job, attend a training seminar, see a doctor - I could go on and on,” he said. “With this effort, we are directly investing in our families’ futures.”
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