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Located on the northeastern coast of Puerto Rico, Loíza is one of the most culturally rich municipalities on the island. In the 16th century, it became a place where escaped slaves could find safe harbor. Today, it remains a center for African-inspired traditions and is home to the largest population of Black residents on the island, with more than 60 percent of its 30,000 residents identifying as Black. Despite this rich legacy, Loíza is also one of the poorest municipalities in Puerto Rico; nearly half of all residents live below the poverty line and its unemployment rate is almost triple the national average.
Among the many challenges Loíza residents face is a lack of reliable broadband connectivity. In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, access to these services has become essential to survival, which has drawn Puerto Rico’s connectivity woes into sharper relief. In Loíza, 26.8% of surveyed households do not have any type of at home internet connection. For households with an internet connection, this access is often unreliable and limited. Unfortunately, connectivity is not the only issue for residents in Loíza; broadband adoption is also a critical concern. According to a 2015 study by the Puerto Rico Broadband Task Force, residents without broadband were consistently individuals in low-income households, senior citizens, and/or people with lower levels of education. This lack of access is largely due to the high costs of broadband service, lack of computing devices in Loíza, and low digital literacy among residents.
In 2020, Libraries Without Borders US (LWB US) partnered with Link Puerto Rico (LinkPR) and Information Technology Disaster Resource Center (ITDRC) in response to the barriers posed by a lack of access to connectivity and critical resources. Together, we installed four T-Mobile hotspots, each with 14 gigabytes/month, and eight socially distanced computers in the Sector la 23 y Las Gardenias community center.
To support the expansion of this model to other areas of Loíza, US Ignite awarded LWB US a grant in 2021 through its Project OVERCOME, funded by the National Science Foundation (funded in part through Cooperative Agreement 2044448). US Ignite is a high‐tech nonprofit with a mission to accelerate the smart community movement, and Project OVERCOME is a National Science Foundation (NSF) funded effort to accelerate the delivery of broadband services to unserved and underserved communities. With the support of US Ignite and NSF, LWB US, LinkPR, and ITDRC are installing additional hotspots in the Sector la 23 y Las Gardenias community center to provide the community members with improved internet quality and speed. We are then replicating the prototype from this pilot in the community centers of Tocones and Piñones; and laying the foundation for a series of digital and health literacy workshops using a “train the trainer” model in collaboration with community leaders. Through this effort, community health volunteers will then use these skills to expand access to telehealth services for Loíza residents in need of health information and medical care.
Ultimately, De Puente a Puente project seeks to meet the urgent need for connectivity during the COVID-19 pandemic while gathering increased data and laying the groundwork for expanded, long-term internet solutions in Loíza, Puerto Rico.
For questions and more information, please contact Puerto Rico Project Coordinator Moreno Sánchez firstname.lastname@example.org.