BY SHELLY SLOCUM
BACK BAY — When the Pungo-Blackwater Library reopened after recent renovations, changes at the rural library included a broadband smart pole that provides wireless internet to patrons and a few nearby residents in the rural community.
The city of Virginia Beach has installed two smart poles in the city, here and at the future site of the Virginia African American Culture Center, using Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act — or CARES Act — funding. Costs will be covered by CARES funding for a year.
The smart poles will provide free outdoor Wi-Fi access, according to Shirell Hairston, a spokesperson for the city information technology department, in email correspondence. Surrounding homes may also utilize the service indoors if they can connect. The free WiFi is provided by a regional cellular service provider.
The Pungo-Blackwater Library and the cultural center locations were chosen based on who in the area needed the broadband connectivity the most, in an attempt to spread equality of internet access. The smart poles are located in “unserved and underserved communities where a need for broadband services exists,” according to Hairston.
The Pungo-Blackwater Library smart pole also benefits the Senior Resource Center located next door. However, the signal may be available at distances up to 1,000 feet, Hairston wrote.
For those worried about privacy while using the community WiFi, Hairston assured that their data will not be collected or analyzed.
“The management software will capture monthly usage,” Hairston said in the email. “No citizen data is being collected.”
The smart poles are part of a larger initiative to expand broadband equity throughout the city, which has become increasingly important as the culture of Zoom meetings and online schooling has expanded during the novel coronavirus pandemic.
Due to the pandemic and its effect on in-person gatherings, there has been an increased need for all citizens to have access to the internet for school and work needs. However, a lot of people do not have the privilege of quick, reliable internet.
The city is planning more smart pole locations throughout Virginia Beach, but specific locations have not been confirmed yet.
And the rural library, too, is glad to be back following the renovations and limited services related to the pandemic.
“We were so excited to reopen,” said Sarah Bell Sindlinger, manager of the Pungo-Blackwater Library.
“Just seeing everyone’s smiles was amazing,” she said during a recent interview. “Our library is one of the only places in our community where people can gather and catch up on neighborly news.”
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