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Billings abandons plans to install wi-fi in city parks

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Posted at 2:32 PM, Mar 24, 2022
and last updated 2022-03-24 16:40:25-04

BILLINGS - Billings city officials are reversing course on plans to install internet wi-fi hotspots at eight parks in low-income areas across the city, citing concerns of increased "nefarious activity."

Billings City Administrator Chris Kukulski wrote in his weekly report that the parks' dedicated police officer had expressed concern to parks staff about the plan, which was launched in December 2021 with just over $1 million in federal COVID-19 relief money.

Related: Internet hotspots to be installed in eight Billings parks this spring

The officer worried the hotspots would attract more loitering, increased drinking and drug use, and potentially distract park goers and leave them more vulnerable to criminal activity, according to Kukulski.

He cited a city survey stating that only 59 percent of respondents say they feel safe in city parks and noted that park staff felt the internet hotspots would make the problem of safety worse. The Billings Police Department supported the decision to drop the project, according to Kukulski.

In addition, while the city would install filters to block pornography and other illicit online material, users would be allowed to opt-out of the block, potentially exposing children to this type of content, according to Kukulski.

Also, the federal grant required the city to provide the grant for five years, but the financial allocation only covered two years. City officials were uncertain how to pay for the remaining three years.

The eight prospective locations were North Park, Pioneer Park, Comanche Park, South Park, Optimist Park, Highland Park, Central Park, and Arrowhead Park.

Read the full report below: