People without home internet access often use WiFi hotspots to check email, search the web for employment opportunities, play games, make banking transactions and more. Typically located in public locations like libraries, coffee shops and other restaurants, concerns have been on the rise in recent days as more and more locations are shut down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and more people are asked to work or complete school assignments from home.
The Great Bend Public Library has been helpful, getting the word out to patrons through its social media presence and through the local media that the internet can be accessed outside the building from the parking lot during this temporary closure, but it’s not the only location in town where access is available.
The Great Bend Tribune took time out this week to locate various hotspots in the city. This is by no means an exhaustive list and it’s likely some locations were missed. That being said, here’s what the Tribune found.
The criteria was simple. To make the list, a connection could be made from a laptop computer or smartphone without having to exit a vehicle and requiring no password.
Several of the hotspots we verified are made available through Nex-tech Wireless, and a full list can be found on their website, https://www.nex-tech.com/PlansBundles/Internet/Wi-FiHotspots.aspx. The list there includes cities within the service area besides Great Bend. We verified each spot listed in Great Bend, and found only two were not active – the Great Bend Expo and the SRCA Dragstrip. It is unknown if those spots are seasonal or available only when events are happening.
Still, that left 10 options which checked out: Gambino’s, Crest Theater, City of Great Bend (incorrectly identified on Nex-tech’s list as Great Bend Courthouse Square), Great Bend Municipal Airport, Great Bend Brit Spaugh Park and Zoo, Great Bend Public Library, Great Bend Sports Complex, RePerk’s Coffee Shop, and Renue Salon and Spa.
Other hotspots were located using the WiFi signal detector in our smartphone’s settings menu under “Network & internet.” Commercial zones and places where there are public gathering spots are recommended for this step. A business or organization may offer free access for their customers or as a public service as a gesture of goodwill.
WiFi hotspots can be identified easily because the display on the phone will not have a lock icon. The signal can be accessed by selecting the venue, and then selecting “connect.” Sometimes it takes a few tries to connect and sometimes the connection is intermittent, so expect interruptions based on signal quality. For all the connections that we made, most indicated a signal quality between “poor” and “good.”
In Great Bend, access is available at the Dillons grocery store parking lot on 10th Street, and at Applebee’s, KFC, Freddy’s and McDonald’s restaurants. At these locations, the WiFi signal was strongest closer to the building.
It’s also notable that with Great Bend Brit Spaugh Park and Zoo is currently closed to the public, and access appeared to be a problem. However, the signal is “good” across Main Street in parking areas directly across from the east park entrance and the zoo’s Raptor Center. The further away from that location, the worse the signal. Main Street is only two-lane at that location, so parking curbside is not safe and not recommended.
Speeds at each location were stated to be 2.4 GHz, which is standard for WiFi networks. It’s adequate for uploading and downloading most files. Keep in mind that large photos, video and audio of any length, and multi-page documents are considered large files, and they could take a long time to send or receive, and interruptions could leave you starting over. For these tasks, it’s recommended to access a beefier system, which could be difficult during the shutdown.
It’s also worth noting that signal is available outside each of the USD 428 school buildings, but is password protected for students and staff only. This secure network would be the preference for students or staff sending and receiving assignments or other work-related documents.