AARP supports broadband outreach program

(Left to right) Sen. Greg McCortney, Dist. 13; Joy McGill, AARP Oklahoma Associate State Director of Outreach; Melissa Koesler, Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service Garvin County Extension Director; Dr. Damona Doye, Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service Associate Vice President; Dr. Brian Whitacre, Oklahoma State University Agricultural Economics, Sarkeys Distinguished Professor; Sean Voskuhl, AARP Oklahoma State Director; Claude Bess, Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service Southeast District Director; Joe Ann Vermillion, AARP Oklahoma State Volunteer President; State Rep. Cindy Roe, Dist. 42.

AARP Oklahoma presented a $5,000 honorary grant check this week to Oklahoma State University’s Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources and Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service to support OSU’s rural broadband outreach program.

The $5,000 grant from AARP Oklahoma funds 22 internet hotspots that are now available in public libraries in four rural Oklahoma communities: Pauls Valley, Blackwell, Inola and Hulbert. The grant also funds data services for seven devices that OSU previously placed in the Okemah Public Library.

The hotspots are available for check-out to library patrons similar to traditional books. Libraries will loan out the mobile hotspots which can connect up to 10 devices such as smartphones or tablets for one week at a time.

OSU’s mobile hotspot program is now implemented in 15 rural libraries across the state, with seven of those programs fully funded by AARP Oklahoma. AARP Oklahoma funded hotspots and data in 2018 to Atoka, Davis and Marietta libraries in partnership with OSU.

“Our hard-working Oklahomans and their families deserve to be connected to the digital world. Unfortunately, rural areas often lack access to internet connectivity in their homes,” said Sean Voskuhl, AARP Oklahoma state director. “Our partnership with Oklahoma State University’s Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources and Oklahoma Cooperative Extension Service provides rural communities with digital connectivity to important resources such as health care, entertainment, job and education resources, while also being able to be more socially connected and personally fulfilled.”

Voskuhl noted that AARP’s support for OSU’s hotspot program is especially meaningful since Oklahoma ranks 47th in the nation for broadband connectivity. 

“AARP is committed to driving change in supporting digital connectivity for all Oklahomans, especially in our rural areas,” Voskuhl said.

“Access to broadband affords us many opportunities that are tied directly to online connectivity, such as applying for jobs or staying in touch with family and friends. Without it, many are left behind,” said Dr. Brian Whitacre, Sarkeys Distinguished Professor, Oklahoma State University Agricultural Economics. “OSU’s partnership with AARP and our Oklahoma libraries offers a crucial component in successfully reaching the unconnected demographic and enriching their lives,” said Dr. Whitacre.

Dr. Whitacre added that OSU’s focus groups have uncovered that individuals that lack an Internet connection feel disadvantaged and less connected to their local communities than those who maintain a regular online presence. OSU’s hotspot program and support from AARP will give those disconnected individuals an opportunity to more fully participate in the multiple areas that are now predominantly online.

Survey results from library patrons indicate that the program is extremely popular, with more than 90 percent ranking it as a nine or higher (out of 10). Survey comments highlight children that are now able to work on homework in the comfort of their own homes, users’ ability to stay connected to friends and family and use of the devices to apply for jobs or improve work skills.

Information: Dr. Brian Whitacre, (405) 744-9825, brian.whitacre@okstate.edu.

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