weather icon Clear

Historic Westside Las Vegas residents receive free wireless internet

Updated June 5, 2020 - 8:34 pm

As of Friday morning, 5,000 low-income residents in the Historic Westside neighborhood have access to free wireless internet service through the Soul City WiFi project.

“Let there be Wi-Fi,” Olivia Smith, community outreach manager for Anthem Inc., said as she snipped a large white ribbon in front of the Las Vegas Technology Center on D Street, officially launching the service to cheers and applause.

The initiative is housed at the technology center in partnership with the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation and the Harrison House and has a $14,000 sponsorship from Anthem BlueCross BlueShield and the Anthem Foundation.

About 5,000 people in the 3.5-square-mile area of the Historic Westside neighborhood in Las Vegas can join the free, high-speed Wi-Fi network, and there are plans to expand it soon after its launch, said Katie Duncan, executive director of Harrison House, a community center for racial and cultural dialogue.

The aim of the project is to give residents an opportunity to become involved in America’s economic system through access to education, she added. Children in the area still in online school are a priority, and Duncan said she hopes small businesses will be able to benefit from the service as well.

“You can’t get educated unless you have information, and information is coming through technology, and we’re void of technology,” Duncan said. “That’s part of why we’re still in a depressed state.”

Steven Williams, president of the National Juneteenth Observance Foundation, was visiting the Historic Westside neighborhood in October from his home in Virginia when he noticed a dearth of technology in the area. After some research and conversations with those now part of the Soul City WiFi project, he decided to bring the foundation’s initiative to “bridge the digital divide” often found in rural areas to Las Vegas.

After the coronavirus pandemic hit, the project was accelerated to meet people’s needs, taking two months to bring to fruition instead of the typical six to eight, Williams said.

“This is the first urban effort we’ve done,” Williams said during the press conference. “Las Vegas is setting the stage for the rest of America to follow.”

Project chairman Antonio Bowen said that in an area where some families can barely afford food or pay their rent, this will provide a welcome opportunity for “equal education.”

Along with free internet access, residents can benefit from the hands-on education offered at the Las Vegas Technology Center, founded by Tyrone Armstrong. He said computers and a sound mixing board will be set up along the wall of the center, where children and adults can come in to learn about computers and mixing music.

The center has also launched Raspberry Pie Academy, through which children can learn about computer programming to build a foundation for their careers, Williams said.

“When you grow up you need to see a way out, how you’re going to make it in the future,” Armstrong said. “We want to provide things for our young children to have some kind of hope.”

Contact Amanda Bradford at abradford@reviewjournal.com. Follow @amandabrad_uc on Twitter.

Don't miss the big stories. Like us on Facebook.
2 killed in Las Vegas crash

The crash occurred around 10:11 p.m. Friday on Vegas Drive and Pyramid Drive, according to the Metropolitan Police Department.

2024 Electric Daisy Carnival lineup announced

Among the many, many big names who will be taking to the nine EDC stages: Deadmau5, Diplo, Illenium, Kaskade, Zedd, Steve Aoki, Slander, Seven Lions, Dom Dolla, DJ Snake, Sofi Tukker and over 200 more.