HAP will be funding the program with CARES (Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security) funding from the federal government. Parts and installation costs area expected to total $43,000 with $13,000 set aside for maintenance in the first year for a total of $56,000 for the year. Paducah Power will be waiving the bill for the internet service as the pandemic continues, a contribution that totals to around $1,050 a month.
Installation of the WAPs is expected to begin Monday and become operational by the end of August.
“We wanted to get those kids the opportunity to learn. We’re a community-based utility, a public power utility, so part of our purpose is the betterment of that community and that’s a pretty easy sell when you’re talking about educating children,” Paducah Power General Manager Dave Carroll told The Sun. “We’re glad to help.”
Students looking to register their school-given devices should contact the HAP offices via 270-443-3634. Hollimon said any student, regardless of whether or not they live in a HAP property, can use their internet network.
With area schools set to start their semesters in just over a week’s time, area administrators are happy to see this kind of effort come out of the community.
Will Black, assistant superintendent at Paducah Independent School District, views programs like HAP’s as a valuable contribution to the community because internet access is vital to education during the pandemic.
“It’s a critical resource for kids even during a regular school year,” he said. “It’s very helpful to have the internet at home to be able to access resources or look up information, but it’s even more important today because kids have less access to the teachers.”
“Projects like this, for the community to step up and do things like the HAP is doing, are really valuable to try to touch that population that doesn’t have internet access,” said Michael Ceglinski, McCracken County Schools Assistant Superintendent. “It’s just the expectation that everybody has this because it’s just kind of the way the world operates right now.
“If you don’t have it, you’re just not on the same playing field as everyone else that does.”
With around 5% of both the city and county school systems’ households still without reliable internet access, Black continues to promote other ways for people to get affordable access, like Comcast’s Internet Essentials program or via the McCracken County Public Library’s digital toolbox initiative — which has loaned out laptops and WiFi hotspots since 2017.
“The internet is a basic utility now. You can’t do much of anything without it. It’s a necessity,” library director Susan Baier said. “In order for there to be an equal playing field for all these students doing remote learning, access is critical. It has to be there.”
McCracken County students begin class Aug. 24, though they are expected to remain home for nontraditional instruction (NTI) for at least a month beyond that. What Paducah students will do remains up in the air, even as classes are set to begin the same week. A plan for that is expected to be announced following this coming week’s school board meeting.
Regardless, Hollimon hopes this offering aids parents and students as they navigate the difficult decision of whether or not to return to the classroom when the option is available. He believes everyone should at least have the ability to have their child learn from home for their safety, if they wish.
“I want people to be able to choose,” he said. “This is going to make that a little bit easier on everybody because whatever they go with it’s the best for them and not just the only option.”