Free WiFi hotspots to be set up in areas of rural WV

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FILE – This June 19, 2017 file photo shows a person working on a laptop in North Andover, Mass. The U.S. internet won’t get overloaded by spikes in traffic from the millions of Americans now working from home to discourage the spread of the new coronavirus, experts say. But connections could stumble for many if too many family members try to videoconference at the same time. (AP Photo/Elise Amendola, File)

CHARLESTON, WV (WOWK) – The American Electric Power Foundation is donating nearly $70,000 to create free WiFi hotspots at multiple locations across Appalachian Power’s West Virginia and Virginia service area.

The company says the hotspots are being put in place especially so students who don’t have internet access at home can easily access educational materials and classroom assignments from their devices.

“The AEP Foundation has already donated $288,000 in West Virginia, Virginia and Tennessee to support specific COVID-19 relief efforts,” says Chris Beam, Appalachian Power president and COO.  “Now we’re looking past the initial donations ─ which were primarily to support food pantries and basic human needs ─ to what else is needed in our communities. Lack of broadband access for students rose to the top.

The United Way of Southwest Virginia and United Way of Central West Virginia will coordinate funding for the program, according to the foundation. The funds will be used to pay local internet service providers for the necessary equipment and to install and maintain the hotspots and provide internet service.

“A large part of our territory is rural and lacks widespread internet access,” Beam says. “Funding from the AEP Foundation will help individuals and families stay connected even if they do not have reliable broadband access in their homes. This initiative will help level the playing field for our students in rural parts of West Virginia and Virginia. We’ll be better prepared for the future of education, whatever it holds.”

WiFi sites will be located at select schools and community centers, along with other locations. Appalachian Power says it has worked with local internet service providers to identify the best locations in underserved areas for the hotspots. Users will be able to stay in their vehicles and access the internet, which will allow them to follow social distancing guidelines. 

In West Virginia, approximately 23 WiFi hotspots will be created in Jackson, Lincoln, Mason, and Wyoming counties. New WiFi hotspots will also be established in 26 locations across Virginia in Bland, Buchanan, Carroll, Dickenson, Franklin, Giles, Grayson, Patrick, Russell, Scott, Tazewell and Wise counties.

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