City of Yakima explores funding options for free WiFi in public parks

UPDATE, 6 p.m. — The Yakima City Council voted unanimously Tuesday evening to apply for American Rescue Plan Act funds that Yakima County has made available for projects to help improve community members’ lives.

That funding will be used to pursue a project to bring free public WiFi to several city parks.

YAKIMA, Wash. — The Yakima City Council is considering submitting an application to the county for funding to help them pursue a project to bring free public WiFi to several city parks.

The council is scheduled to vote Tuesday evening on whether to apply for American Rescue Plan Act funds that Yakima County has made available for projects to help improve community members’ lives.

City of Yakima spokesperson Randy Beehler said if the council decides to apply and is granted those funds, the city would use that money to test offering free WiFi at one or more city parks — likely Miller Park, Martin Luther King Jr. Park or Gilbert Park.

No final decisions will be made Tuesday on the project itself, officials say

“The decision being made tonight is not whether to put WiFi in city parks or which parks to put them in, but rather, whether or not to apply for this funding from the county,” Beehler said.

City staff have already approached one vendor for a quote and learned it would likely cost at least $5,000 to put together a proposal to add Wi-Fi to the three parks.

“At this time, we estimate an upfront cost of $50,000 to $60,000. Approximately 1/3 of this is for the required technical equipment and internet service with the rest to cover electrical and other expenses. Additionally, we estimate an ongoing annual equipment replacement fund of $3,500 to $5,000,” city staff said in a report provided to council members.

Beehler said the city has been discussing the possibility of providing internet at local parks for several years, but decided to consider it more seriously in the past couple of months.

“The City of Yakima has, generally speaking, good WiFi coverage, but there are some spots in the city that are not covered very well,” Beehler said. 

Free public WiFi at Yakima parks could help low-income areas access high-speed internet

According to the report, city staff studied existing internet coverage in the city and — using the WiFi app — determined that Yakima residents currently have access to more than 200 free or crowdfunded WiFi networks.

Taking that into account, staff looked at each one of the city’s 41 parks to figure out whether they would be suitable options for piloting free internet access.

City staff determined some of the larger parks like Randall Park and Kiwanis Park were not ideal because it would be difficult to provide a connection that would span the whole area. Others already had public WiFi offered nearby.

Beehler said the best options for a pilot came down to Miller Park, Martin Luther King Jr. Park and Gilbert Park — locations where people potentially struggle to find internet access in general or where they’re unlikely to find a strong connection.

“A couple of the parks that are suggested to be these trial sites for WiFi in the parks are in some of our lower income areas and it is hard in those areas to get access to high-speed WiFi in particular,” Beehler said.

City staff note potential security concerns, recommend other options for providing public WiFi access

Beehler said the city will have to take into account the security concerns that may come with providing a public internet connection, such as the network being more susceptible to hacking and the potential for people to use it to access inappropriate information.

“If that service is being provided by a public entity like city government, there are some limitations as to the limitations that can be placed on what sort of content can be accessed through that network,” Beehler said.

City staff recommended if the council decides providing public WiFi is a necessity, they should look at providing it at community centers instead, such as:

  • Henry Beauchamp Jr. Community Center
  • Washington Fruit Community Center
  • Harman Center

In the report, city staff said using existing community centers would be, “a more cost-effective route that provides the means to monitor usage and potentially lessen the liability.”

Staff said they did not know if the community centers would be interested in providing that service and did not have an estimate for how much it might cost to provide WiFi there instead of at local parks.


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