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Free wifi hotspots rolled out at 70 locations around Tucson, rural areas

Free high-speed wifi hotspots will be soon be accessible at 120 different locations in Pima County. While most of the sites are in the metro area, several are in rural areas such as Altar Valley, Picture Rocks and Vail.

The first 70 hotspots opened on Monday around parks, community centers and schools, including Tucson High School, Santa Rita Park and the Pima County Fairgrounds. The remaining 50 will launch in “mid-July,” though county officials haven't specified when.

Anyone can connect their devices like laptop or cell phones to the Internet service available from these hotspots. A map of the sites can be found here.

Users seeking to connect to the free wifi only need to find the network named “PCPLonTheGo” and accept the terms and conditions. No password is needed.

Larger areas such as at Tucson High School or the fairgrounds have as many as five hotspots set up. The number of hotspots only indicates the size of the area covered, Cox officials said, but residents only have to log onto one network to use high-speed connections.

Single hotspot networks are also clustered around some areas. Along a stretch of East Broadway between South Kino Parkway and South Country Club Road, there are 11 individual free hotspots, all up and running as of Monday. Eight active hotspots are scattered around Downtown Tucson.

Similar to how larger areas have more hotspots, the individual hotspots spread across some areas will also allow people to move from one location to another nearby without having to disconnect and reconnect, Cox officials said.

Many of the rural hotspots have yet to launch, including two at Picture Rocks, two at Old Tucson Studios and two at Gates Pass south of Bushmaster Peak. Several urban hotspots locations are also pending, such as two at Denny Dunn Park near Marana, two at Silverbell Park and four at El Conquistador Golf Club in Oro Valley.

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Tucson has several free active hotspots near Park Place, the UA and two at Santa Rita Park, though only three are set up in South Side Tucson. Hotspots near Davis-Monthan Air Force Base, El Rio Park, Francisco Elias Esquer Park on North Oracle Road and Dolan Middle School on East Grant Road are planned but have yet to launch.

The Pima County Library system is paying Cox Communications $720,448 to set up the program. The payment will be reimbursed through the $7 billion Emergency Connectivity Fund, a three-year Federal Communications Commission program aimed at making wifi more accessible and closing the digital divide.

Library Director Amber Mathewson called the free service points “a robust plan to provide Internet access where it’s most needed.”

 “Providing access to the Internet, devices, and training is a foundational value of public library service to the community,” Library Deputy Director Michelle Simon said.

Large swaths of Pima County and the Tucson metro area have poor access to wifi compared to what's expected by FCC standards, according to county officials. The free hotspot program is a multi-year project that aims to increase that access by 10 percent in each of the county’s five districts.

The county is also trying to boost digital literacy, or familiarity with online tools and resources, and increase the number of households with access to “reliable personal and public internet” by 20% before 2026. 

More information on wifi and broadband access from Pima County is available here.

Bennito L. Kelty is TucsonSentinel.com’s IDEA reporter, focusing on Inclusion, Diversity, Equity and Access stories, and a Report for America corps member supported by readers like you.

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