Shelby County looking to fund WiFi study to make sure internet is accessible to all

SHELBY COUNTY, Tenn. — With so many people working and attending school virtually from home, access to the internet is as important as ever.

The digital divide in Shelby County Schools is one of the top concerns for parents and students. Shelby County Commissioners say children must be equipped to learn virtually.

Now commissioners are considering spending $150,000 to conduct a WiFi study. The goal is to get reliable internet to some areas that don’t have it.

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Commissioners said Union Row has the most technical capabilities but that’s not the case in other areas like Frayser, South Memphis, and North Memphis; communities they say have been underserved for far too long.

“It’s a little frustrating to the children if they are in the middle of an assignment and the WiFi just shuts down,” said Thyais Robinson of South Memphis.

Robinson stays with her 1st, 2nd, 3rd, and 7th grade nephews during the day to help them with virtual learning in South Memphis. She told FOX13 she lets them use her personal WiFi, but sometimes, it’s not always reliable.

Now county leaders are looking at a possible solution.

“We want to go to the areas where there’s the most need, areas that have more or less have been forgotten about,” said Shelby County Commissioner Van Turner.

Shelby County commissioners say a WiFi study would help determine if implementing countywide, free, public WiFi is possible.

“The purpose of this study is to see where our dark spots, the areas with the challenges and the needs and make sure that we were to extend WiFi accessibility to those areas,” Turner explained.

Turner said South Memphis, Frayser, and North Memphis are just a few problem areas. He said Union Row in Midtown isn’t experiencing the same challenges.

“You have many businesses and homes which enjoy free use of WiFi, which is readily accessible to everyone here, and I think the point that was being made is we want WiFi accessibility for everyone.”

“I think it’s a good thing that they’re looking into the issue to make internet better for the inner city kids that don’t have good internet access,” Robinson stated.

Turner said the next step is to figure out where the funding will come from to conduct this study and find a team that can do the assessment.