Free WiFi Hotspots and Low-Cost Internet Options in CU

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In the midst of the COVID-19 Pandemic, internet access has become more critical than ever before. In keeping with social distancing orders, schools, meetings, basic communications, work, and many other societal functions have moved online for the foreseeable future.

For many working-class and low-income families and individuals, however, the quality, high-speed internet access they need has been and remains unaffordable. With the pandemic closing the libraries, cafes, and other spots in CU that used to provide free WiFi hotspots, these people have been left with few options.

To mitigate this problem, local businesses, schools, and community organizations have begun to provide access to free, socially distant mobile hotspots and low-cost internet options. In an effort to help people navigate the many options and find what’s best for them, community member Sharon Irish has compiled information on them into the detailed and useful letter below. Thank you Sharon for sharing info on these important resources!

C-U Connect WiFi Access Points

A map showing free WiFi hotspots in purple.

Families of school children have now been loaned Chromebooks for remote learning. Chromebooks require internet access.

A team of people from the public libraries, public schools, cities, university and assorted technology groups would like to publicize this short list of open access points, with the following reminders:

  1. Please remember that you are being provided with WiFi access as a guest and will likely have to agree to the given entity’s acceptable use policy.
  2. Please be considerate of others using this access. Do not download excessive content and limit your use to school-work related matters.
  3. To maintain proper social distancing guidelines, please remain in your vehicle as you access the WiFi hotspots.
  4. If individuals fail to maintain proper social distancing guidelines and congregate near the access points outside of their vehicles, sites may be taken down without notice in order to ensure public safety.  Please do not jeopardize these opportunities for others.
  5. Conditions may necessitate changes without notice.
  6. Use your best judgment and please be aware of your surroundings when using a drive-up WiFi hotspot. Avoid using hot spots at night.

Connect Illinois will be posting a map with other access points on this site: (https://www2.illinois.gov/dceo/ConnectIllinois/Pages/default.aspx)

Temporary fixed hotspots:

Name Address Notes
Champaign Public Library Parking Lot 200 W. Green St., Champaign, IL 61820 Connect to WiFi “Champaign_Public_Library”
Champaign Public Library – Douglass Branch Parking Lot 504 E. Grove St., Champaign, IL 61820 Connect to WiFi “Champaign_Public_Library”
Urbana Free Library Parking Lot 210 W. Green St., Urbana, IL 61801 Connect to WiFi “Urbana Free library”
Blair Park 1406 S. Broadway Ave., Urbana, IL Volo provides free WiFi in the park. http://volo.net/story/2015/04/30/free-wi-fi-in-downtown-urbana-blair-park
E-14 Parking Lot Kirby & Oak, Champaign, IL NW corner of E-14 lot has best coverage
UI Parking Garage 1st floor 1201 W. University Ave at Mathews, Urbana, IL 1st floor

NOTE:

The more people access the WiFi the more its strength diminishes.

No more than 20-30 users at a time is best.

The radius of the signal from the hotspot is about 30 feet.

As these sites are used, if it seems that more options are needed, several UI shuttle buses with on-board wifi can be deployed, parked in a designated spot, and the wifi used at a distance.

Related:

Comcast/Xfinity has made its mobile hotspots temporarily open for everyone to access. Here’s a map of what areas those cover.  https://hotspots.wifi.xfinity.com/

Comcast/Xfinity is providing low-income families with two months free of Wi-Fi through their Internet Essentials program if you apply before Apr. 30. You qualify if you are eligible for certain public assistance programs. For more info: https://www.internetessentials.com/covid19

AT&T offers low-cost internet for $5-$10 per month if you are on SNAP benefits. More info: https://www.isbe.net/Documents/COVID-19-Keep-Americans-Connected-Handout-031920.pdf

Low income families can sign up for Lifeline which will provide free (unlimited during the crisis) phone access:  https://www.lifelinesupport.org/

Sharon Irish (slirish AT Illinois DOT edu) will try and stay up to date on further developments if there are questions.

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