State and local governments are working overtime to provide Internet service to all who need it during the pandemic, pushing out a range of ad hoc projects designed to keep members of their communities connected.\nWith Internet access ever more crucial in the age of social distancing, it seems clear that COVID-19 has deepened the digital divide \u2013 less well-off Americans are less likely to have the kind of reliable home Internet connection that they will need in order to work remotely, access important government services and stay in touch with family members.\nSome local governments, however, are working to close the gap.\nBuses become Wi-Fi hotspots\nImprovisation and flexibility are watchwords for the government workers putting these projects together. In Sacramento, chief innovation officer Louis Stewart took advantage of Sacramento Regional Transit District buses idled by a lack of riders to create large, mobile Wi-Fi hotspots, dubbing it the Wi-Fi Bus program. Users can simply connect to the provided Wi-Fi network to get internet access via the Sacramento Public Library\u2019s portal.\nBuses were particularly well-suited to the task, as their size makes it easy for them to carry multiple access points while being taller than many trees and other obstructions that could interfere with Wi-Fi signals, he added.\nThe private sector is a key part of Sacramento\u2019s effort, with Cradlepoint, Aruba, and Sierra wireless all contributing Wi-Fi access points and routers, and major mobile carriers like AT&T, Verizon and T-Mobile offering wireless backhaul. It helped that, as the capital of California, Sacramento already had government affairs representatives from many companies locally situated.\n\u201cHonestly, once we got the first provider on board, it came down to the companies\u2019 competitive nature to try and jump in and help to be part of this proof of concept,\u201d said Stewart. \u201cIt ended up being fairly simple to do, we did in five weeks what would\u2019ve ordinarily taken six months.\u201d\nThe SacRT buses \u2013 Stewart said that there are 10 of them on the road as of the week of May 11 \u2013 work in \u201cshifts\u201d of roughly three hours at a given location before relocating or shutting down for the night. The most common locations are public parks, churches and schools. He added that, while some sites see as little as 16 users at once, more than 50 people came out to a recent session at one of the city\u2019s libraries, and he expects to see a further uptick once public awareness of the Wi-Fi Bus program spreads.\nRepurposing mobile Wi-Fi for static deployment\nPublic awareness, in fact, tends to be a larger problem for these efforts than anything technical. In Albuquerque, technology and innovation department director Brian Osterloh said that the biggest hurdle to the city\u2019s Wi-Fi On Wheels program has been marketing.\n\u201cIt\u2019s difficult to tell someone to go to a website to learn about getting access if they can\u2019t get to a website,\u201d he points out. \u201cWe knew we would run into that to some extent, but we didn\u2019t know how chronic it would be.\u201d\nOne avenue the program has explored to help get the word out about its own bus- and van-based mobile Wi-Fi hotspots is the school system, said Osterloh. Schools have robocall systems that can be used to quickly contact parents in case of emergencies, as well as marquee signs.\nAlbuquerque\u2019s Wi-Fi On Wheels works in more or less the same way as Sacramento\u2019s Wi-Fi Bus. Workers mount access points on municipal buses and paratransit vans that provide individualized rides, and T-Mobile provides cellular uplinks for backhaul to the internet. The vehicles are positioned in parking lots at schools, churches and other natural gathering places so that members of the community in need of Internet connectivity can drive up and connect. The city has created static public Wi-Fi points, as well, taking additional Cisco APs meant to provide connectivity for transit riders in normal times off of city buses and mounting them outside municipal buildings.\nMaking in-school internet available outside\nOsterloh said the initial locations for Wi-Fi On Wheels were determined with the help of, once again, the city\u2019s public school system. The thinking was that the most active meal pickup sites would likely be nearest to Albuquerque residents most in need of free Wi-Fi.\nThat\u2019s precisely the approach that the Sioux City (Iowa) public school system took when planning out locations for its own mobile hotspot project. It\u2019s a smaller-scale effort than those underway in Sacramento and Albuquerque, but the project\u2019s three vans each make two three-hour stops per day in locations where it\u2019s hoped they can do the most good.\nAs in other cities with mobile hotspot projects, Sioux City\u2019s vans are equipped with a backhaul link to Verizon and standard Wi-Fi access points for connectivity.\nThe biggest hurdle to overcome in getting the vans rolling, according to Pritchard, was simply coping with the changing realities of running a school system in a pandemic.\u00a0 The original plan for keeping students connected was to distribute portable cellular modems to students from an educational network service provider called Kajeet, but limited stocks of that equipment forced Pritchard and his department to improvise.\nSioux City is also opting to mount access points outside of school buildings, so that the parking lots there can be another option for those seeking Internet access.\nMicrosoft grant helps Washington State\nElsewhere, community Wi-Fi projects are taking place at the state level. Washington, for one, has partnered with the nonprofit Information Technology Disaster Resource Center to wire the outsides of buildings and parking lots throughout the state.\nThe director of the Washington State Broadband Office, Russ Elliot, thinks of the process as inverting the systems that are already in place.\n\u201cWe need to turn that broadband inside out,\u201d he said. The existing wired Internet connections serving the state\u2019s schools and libraries are generally robust, he noted, so the priority is on giving the public \u2013 particularly in underserved, rural areas \u2013 access to that connectivity.\nThe ITDRC, aided by grants from Microsoft, has deployed sets of access points from Ruckus and Cambium to create large zones\u00a0 - between 1,000 and 2,000 feet in diameter, according to Elliot \u2013 with accessible Wi-Fi near those public buildings. The project\u2019s goal is to create 600 such locations across the state, and to organize them into a single, searchable database and digital map on the state\u2019s website.\nThe project, Elliot said, almost didn\u2019t happen. Other items, including PPE for frontline healthcare workers, had to take priority in the budget.\n\u201cWe had to borrow, scrimp and save to get this off the ground, and it didn\u2019t really take off until Microsoft stepped up,\u201d he said.