By STEFAN MODRICH
Fort Bend County residents in need of WiFi access now have an interactive resource to find an internet connection — the Texas Free WiFi Map.
The map is an initiative of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, in partnership with Texas Legal Services Center and the Texas Rio Grande Legal Aid. It will also be available in Spanish and Vietnamese.
There are five county library branches included on the map:
- Fort Bend County Law Library
1422 Eugene Heimann Circle, Richmond
- First Colony Branch Library
2121 Austin Parkway, Sugar Land
- University Branch Library
14010 University Blvd, Sugar Land
- Mamie George Branch Library
320 Dulles Avenue, Stafford
- Missouri City Branch Library
1560 Texas Parkway, Missouri City
One of the main drivers behind the creation of the online map was the closing of some restaurants, cafes and coffee shops due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Such businesses would normally be popular connectivity hubs for students or other members of the general public.
Sandy Johnson, marketing and communications manager with Fort Bend County Libraries, said some locations have outdoor seating and others remain in their vehicle to access the WiFi.
“If you’re close enough to the building, you can get WiFi,” Johnson said. “Our technology department is actually doing some studies right now to see about extending that out, to see if we can get even better coverage. It’s definitely a work in progress right now.”
In addition to using the drive-up WiFi, Johnson said she encourages people to check out mobile hotspots from their local library branch to use at home or on the go.
Any library cardholder can check out a hotspot from any of the county’s library branches, but they must be returned to the same location where the device was picked up.
Hotspots can be checked out for up to seven days on a first-come, first-served basis, so no holds are allowed.
The instructions for connecting to the device are included at curbside pickup and also accessible via the library website at fortbend.lib.tx.us. The library is also accepting online applications for library cards.
The map includes a breakdown of key information for users, including passwords (if applicable), parking locations, and the best spots to access the WiFi. For example, on the University of Houston-Sugar Land campus, the description reads that the “best locations for WiFi outside are approximately 50 feet around the front main entrance area and up to 25 feet on the University of Houston side of the building, especially by the outside table furniture.”
Because most people have remained in their cars or remained spread apart outside, Johnson said visitors are able to safely socially distance while using the public WiFi.
“Each building is going to have its own separate locations that would be ideal,” Johnson said. “We’ve seen quite a few people outside, but we haven’t seen any crowds. It’s not anything that’s become a problem at all for social distancing.”