Free computers & Wi-Fi

Monday is first ‘drawing’ for $2.5MM digital equity project;
donors, Wi-Fi ‘hotspot hosts’ sought
COVINGTON, Ky. - A random drawing on Monday will select 100 families of Covington schoolchildren to receive free computers, the first round of a massive giveaway that’s part of an aggressive $2.5 million plan to smash the so-called digital divide.
“Covington Connect,” being pushed by the City and six high-profile partners, aims to remove a significant barrier to learning and economic opportunity - lack of internet connectivity - by dramatically improving Wi-Fi access and putting computers in the hands of those who need them.
The project is moving ahead on several fronts: 
  • As of Tuesday night, 1,068 families had registered on-line under a lottery system whose eventual goal is to give away 1,900 computers in Covington, depending upon private fund-raising, according to the Houston non-profit Comp-U-Dopt, which continues to raise money to support the project. 
  • The City and Cincinnati Bell will send a letter in the next few days to residents in strategic locations around Covington seeking permission to install small devices on the exterior of their buildings needed to create a zone of Wi-Fi “hotspots.” In exchange? Those residents will get free Wi-Fi. 
  • Cincinnati Bell is also moving ahead on parallel efforts to improve connectivity: Running fiber to two areas that don’t have it, installing equipment in the Latonia Terrace and City Heights housing complexes, and expanding Wi-Fi access to business districts in MainStrasse Village, at Ritte’s Corner in Latonia, and along the 12th Street corridor. 
“Once this infrastructure is in place, there will be tremendous opportunity to access the internet for education, for shopping and retail, for health-care purposes, and many other activities,” said Pete Bales, who was recently hired by the City to coordinate the Covington Connect initiative.
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.
Computer giveaway
Megan Steckly, chief executive officer of Comp-U-Dopt, said she wasn’t surprised by the rapid registrations, given the organization’s experience in other cities.

“Once it starts picking up steam, it picks up steam,” she said.
On Monday, 100 names will be drawn from the list of Covington registrants, and those “winners” will be notified by cell phone text over the course of the week, Steckly said. The text will include a link for families to use to RSVP and to find out details on how to pick up their computer.
The previously used computers are being refurbished by Blair Tech and ReGadget. The pickup will likely be the first week of September at a drive-thru at Blair Tech’s Latonia location, she said.
Families only need to register once, HERE. Once they register, they are in the mix for future drawings, Steckly said.
Comp-U-Dopt hopes to hold the next drawing of families’ names in about two weeks, but that will depend on fund-raising.
It costs about $250 to equip each family with a computer and service agreement, she said. The organization is looking for individual donors, foundations, businesses, and others to help be a part of the Covington initiative.
Tax-deductible donations can be made HERE. (Make sure you specify “Covington, KY” as the recipient.)
Comp-U-Dopt, which formed in 2007, traditionally has given out 3,100 computers a year, but over the last five months it’s given out 15,000 across the United States.
It recently got a shout-out on “The Tonight Show Starring Jimmy Fallon,” and Steckly said she’ll be on the “Today” show next week.
“We’ve added six cities in the last five months, including Covington,” she said. “All with a staff of just 10 people.”
Wi-Fi infrastructure
Also moving forward is the work to add about 125 Wi-Fi “hotspots” in low- and moderate-income neighborhoods around the city.
Bales has led an effort over the last week to scope out spots to install small devices on the sides of homes and buildings needed to create a “zone” of connectivity.
A letter co-authored by Covington Mayor Joe Meyer and Cincinnati Bell will be sent to property owners asking for permission to install the devices in exchange for free Wi-Fi. Property owners must sign a simple agreement that has already been examined by the City’s Legal department.
“We’re hoping to get responses back by Sept. 11 so we can start the work,” Bales said. “We have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to use federal (CARES Act) funds for a big purpose, and we need to turn the project around fairly quickly.”
The City is also working with Cincinnati Bell to design the log-in page for the free Wi-Fi, he said.
City Manager David Johnston said it was difficult to overstate the importance of the Covington Connect initiative.
“We initially came to this project as a way to help make sure that Covington students had the tools they needed to learn during the pandemic, with its distance-learning focus,” he said. “But the positive impact for families themselves far exceed that benefit to extend into practically every aspect of life.”
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