For the many people living without internet in the United States, the local library is their only access to the benefits of online connectivity. From research to job hunting, internet access is an integral part of twenty-first century life. Unfortunately, many libraries have limited hours, making them inaccessible to some people who work long hours. The New York Public Library is working to change that by loaning out wi-fi hot spots.
Sprint and nonprofit Mobile Beacon, which brings low-cost broadband to schools, libraries, and other nonprofits, have partnered to bring the hot spots and their data plans to the New York Public Library. The devices can be borrowed for up to a year, and are powered by unlimited data plans, which cost the library about $13 per device annually. To be eligible to borrow one of the hot spots, residents must have no broadband of their own at home, and be registered in at least one of the library’s educational programs.
Studies have shown that nearly three million of New York City’s eight million residents have no broadband access, and 55% of people using computers at the New York Public Library lack internet access at home.
“It is simply unfathomable that in the digital world in which we live, one-third of New Yorkers do not have access to broadband Internet at home, putting them at a serious disadvantage at school, in applying for jobs, and so much more,” Anthony Marx, the New York Public Library’s president, told NBC.
In a test run of the program last year, 100 hot spots were loaned out. Data from that program showed that most of the usage was in the evening when libraries were closed, for about three hours a day. Email and search engine use are the two most popular internet activities worldwide.
With a donation from Google in the amount of $1 million and a grant of $500,000 from Knight News Challenge, the program has spread to New York’s other two library systems: the Queens Library and the Brooklyn Public Library. Other libraries are testing similar programs with Mobile Beacon’s assistance, from rural Pennsylvania, Kansas, and Texas to large cities such as Chicago and Los Angeles.