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Breaking Down the Digital Divide

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Breaking Down the Digital Divide

Boston Public Library, Mass.

Equity and Inclusion | 2020

Innovation Synopsis

The library identified locations throughout the city with low broadband internet adoption and prioritized expanding our public Wi-Fi to have a strong signal outside of those buildings. Initially deployed at nine BPL branch locations, this effort allowed users to socially distance while accessing the internet for free.


According to the 2018 American Community Survey, approximately one in five Bostonians are not connected to broadband in the home. Today, internet access is the doorway to the 21st century and to the rest of the world. Even as technology becomes more affordable and internet access seems increasingly common, a “digital divide” still exists, primarily along socioeconomic lines. This pandemic further exacerbates disparities in access to educational opportunities, career advancement, health care and participation in civic life.

Key Elements of Innovation

The nine locations were chosen according to survey data reflecting broadband adoption, household income and availability of nearby outdoor seating. The outdoor Wireless Access Points use Wi-Fi 6 and allow for 200+ devices to connect 300+ feet away (unobstructed). The program was publicized through metal street signage and window signage in English and Spanish. External Wi-Fi opens up opportunities for safely innovating how we provide other services such as instructional programming and outreach.

Achieved Outcomes

The outdoor Wi-Fi program provides residents with reliable internet access, helping residents cope with the coronavirus pandemic and contributing to ongoing efforts to expand digital equity.

Today's public libraries are critical resources for closing the digital equity gap and are more important than ever as we respond to and recover from the impacts of COVID-19. Public outdoor Wi-Fi removes barriers to opportunity and enables additional options for safe programming. Inside or out, our buildings support the community.