Hamilton County awards $1M in grants to improve Wi-Fi access

A dozen local organizations – ranging from city governments and community centers to nonprofits such as Price Hill Will – plan to use a combined $1 million in grant funding to improve Wi-Fi access throughout Hamilton County.

The Public Wi-Fi Grant Program is a joint effort of the Hamilton County and United Way of Greater Cincinnati. The county provided the funding and UWGC administered the program.

Nonprofits and government agencies in Hamilton County could apply for $10,000 to $200,000 for projects designed to increase local public broadband infrastructure.

The selection committee picked projects based on community need, range of impact and capacity, according to UWGC. The total value of the grants is $1,055,066.81.

The list of grant winners is below. UWGC didn’t release specific grant values.

“No matter where you are in Hamilton County, at a park, at a (recreation) center, or in a public space, we want our community to have access to free and secure Wi-Fi because we know it improves lives and economic outcomes for our communities,” said Commissioner Denise Driehaus.

Closing the digital gap in Hamilton County

In recent years, Hamilton County has committed to using pandemic-era federal funding to enhance the life of residents. To date, it has invested $158.8 million in American Rescue Plan Act dollars to create initiatives like the 513Relief Bus, rent and utility relief, and a variety of grant programs.

Earlier this year, the Board of County Commissioners approved more than $1 million in ARPA funds for the Public Wi-Fi Program. Commission President Alicia Reece described the grants as essential to making sure “everyone can fully participate in all the opportunities that come with having access to the internet.”

Investing in Hamilton County communities

Commissioner Stephanie Summerow Dumas said each Wi-Fi grant has the potential to “(strengthen) connections and empowering families within our community.” She views them as having an even greater impact when paired with UWGC’s education-focused Digital Equity Program.

The organization has a goal of increasing regional digital access by 5% in 2025 and 8% by 2030.

In April, UWGC awarded 13 grants, ranging from $25,000 to $50,000, to support things like specialized job training and providing smart devices to those in need. Meals on Wheels of Southwest OH & Northern KY used its funding to expand its Digital Connect Program for older adults at or below 200% of the poverty line.

These “complementary digital equity grants” are important to the long-term success of Hamilton County, according Moira Weir, president and CEO of UWGC. But she said it all starts with foundational broadband access.

“These Wi-Fi infrastructure projects will give more families access to resources that can unlock economic opportunities now and, in the future,” Weir said.

Public Wi-Fi Grant Program winners

  • Cincinnati Recreation Commission: Installing Wi-Fi access points at 10 parks
  • Seven Hills Neighborhood Houses: Installing six Wi-Fi access points throughout the West End neighborhood
  • Peaslee Neighborhood Center Inc.: Boosting the Wi-Fi range and reliability throughout its building for public access
  • MORTAR Cincinnati: Expanding free, high-speed Wi-Fi access throughout its building primarily for public access
  • Cincinnati Health Department: Providing public Wi-Fi across all facilities, including six community health centers and four WIC locations
  • Price Hill Will: Installing three outdoor Wi-Fi access points along Warsaw Avenue
  • Cincinnati Urban Promise Inc.: Installing Wi-Fi in and around a new public co-working space
  • Walnut Hills Redevelopment Foundation: Expanding free public Wi-Fi access to include five total community spaces in Walnut Hills
  • Avondale Development Corporation: Replacing outdated Wi-Fi in eight The Community Builders (TCB) housing complexes and adding one not currently served. Also, replacing public Wi-Fi along Reading Road from the northern part of Blair Avenue to Fred Shuttlesworth Circle, including coverage in the Avondale Town Center
  • City of Blue Ash: Installing free, public Wi-Fi at the park at Blue Ash Towne Square
  • High Achievers Aim High: Installing 10 new Wi-Fi access points
  • Green Township: Installing public Wi-Fi in park areas 

United Way Digital Equity

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