Supes OK free Wi-Fi for county parks

The vast majority of our parks do not have public WiFi. This makes it harder for visitors to reserve picnic tables online or register for park activities. It also makes it difficult for our after-school homework help programs to connect students to the internet.

This week we instructed the County to report back with how we can expand free WiFi to all 182 parks. I hope this will make our parks more accessible and help close the internet access gap.

In addition to sunshine and trees, county park visitors will soon be getting free Wi-Fi service after county supervisors voted Tuesday to make it so.

The Los Angeles County Board of Supervisors approved a motion co-authored by Supervisors Kathryn Barger and Janice Hahn to provide free Wi-Fi service at all county parks.

As Barger and Hahn explain in their motion: “The County of Los Angeles Department of Parks and Recreation strives to provide residents and visitors with quality recreational opportunities across its 182 county parks.”

To date, free Wi-Fi service is available at only 30 of those county parks.

While other parks offer computers, the lack of Wi-Fi access, according to Barger and Hahn, renders them inadequate for many park users’ needs.

Technology plays an ever-important and influential role in enhancing customers’ park experience to increase access, mobility, and data insight, they note in their motion.

They say offering free Wi-Fi at all county parks would benefit many residents who would otherwise have no access to the internet. Many children in after-school programs, they add, cannot complete their homework without internet access.

According to the two supervisors, park patrons of all ages would benefit from internet access to enable them to easily obtain information about parks, reserve picnic areas and other amenities, register for recreation programs, and sign up to volunteer at their local parks.

Internet availability increases access to jobs, educational opportunities, civic engagement, and critical public services. According to a study conducted by the Public Policy Institute of California, 36% of county residents have no access to the internet.

Barger and Hahn stated in the motion that providing free Wi-Fi service in parks and open spaces is an effective step toward bridging the digital divide among socio-economic levels to ensure diverse communities, including children and patrons who are vulnerable or experiencing homelessness, have access to information, including details about county resources and services.

In unincorporated communities, parks serve as community hubs, and for many residents, are the only government facilities they interact with on a regular basis.

Barger and Hahn want the director of the Internal Services Department, in collaboration with the director of Parks and Recreation and the chief information officer, to report back during the board’s supplemental budget process about providing new and free Wi-Fi service, with open access to all social media sites for the public at county parks.

They also want a feasibility study done reflecting the cost-benefit analysis in making free public Wi-Fi service available at all county parks.