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Salt Lake City mayor announces expansion to program providing Wi-Fi, computers during pandemic

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Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall leaves the Sorenson Unity Center in Salt Lake City on Monday, Aug. 24, 2020, after announcing an expansion expansion of Wi-Fi to the center through a program called City Connect. She also announced the extension of another Wi-Fi program called Rose Park Connect. The programs aim to provide digital equity in the city’s west side neighborhoods.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

SALT LAKE CITY — As a step in broader plans by Salt Lake City to provide internet access to all its residents, Mayor Erin Mendenhall announced the expansion of the City Connect Wi-Fi program to a new location Monday.

Salt Lake City residents who don’t have access to Wi-Fi or computers in their homes can now go to the Sorenson Unity Center, located at 1383 S. 900 West, to access both. The need is especially heightened now as the coronavirus pandemic has closed facilities community members may have relied on for internet access, like libraries and schools.

The center has six computers available for general use, from noon to 4 p.m. four days a week, as well as Wi-Fi that extends outside that people can use every day from 5 a.m to 11 p.m., according to Mendenhall.

“Salt Lake City is committed to providing residents with greater access to the digital world, particularly here on our west side in communities that have the least access to it today,” she said.

The program is expanding on the Rose Park Connect initiative, a partnership between the city and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints that began earlier this month.

Similar to the new location, the program at the Rose Park Stake Center provides residents with access to computers, internet and technological help. As part of the press conference, Mendenhall also announced the extension of that program until the end of September.

“This service has quickly proven to be a valuable community resource in the short time that we’ve already had it established,” Mendenhall said.

The fight for digital equity is the impetus behind the expanding program, and sometimes numbers mean less than individual experiences, said Aaron Bentley, chief information officer for Salt Lake City.

“One of the beautiful things about that is if you were to go and interview someone there and hear their story. For example, when I was there, there was a woman who has been working on getting ready to reenter the job field. And there is a volunteer who has been mentoring her for several weeks,” he said. “I think the personal connect stories that you hear there are just as powerful as the number of people we have coming in.”

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Salt Lake City Mayor Erin Mendenhall on Monday, Aug. 24, 2020, announces the expansion of Wi-Fi to the Sorenson Unity Center through a program called City Connect during a press conference at the center. She also announced the extension of another Wi-Fi program called Rose Park Connect. The programs aim to provide digital equity in the city’s west side neighborhoods.

Scott G Winterton, Deseret News

The expansion is a start toward a larger vision where every resident has as much access to the internet as they need.

“So much of our daily lives rely on the internet, from taking the census, to taking a test for school, registering to vote, paying your bills and so many other interactions,” Mendenhall said. “Today’s announcements are exciting but are just beginning steps in our long-term and ongoing effort to connect more people to Wi-Fi.”

Last week, Mendenhall announced a budget proposal asking the Salt Lake City Council to allocate $75,000 to help create “the backbone for a Wi-Fi system on Ensign Peak that will enable a multipoint solution for public Wi-Fi.”

If approved, remaining funds would go toward setting up three remote, portable Wi-Fi sites to provide internet to areas that are most in need, according to the Salt Lake City Mayor’s Office.