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Published On: Sun, Jan 25th, 2015

From Books to WiFi: The Rise of Libraries Lending Out Hotspots

WiFi has become a ubiquitous feature across the United States and around the world. Once confined to homes and office places for use on private networks, WiFi is now available at your local coffee house, automotive service center, and public library. The growth of WiFi is understandable. A data-hungry public wants to remain constantly connected to the world through their smartphone or tablet, especially when their mobile data coverage isn’t performing at optimal levels.

There are more than one billion smartphones now in circulation around the world, with two-thirds of Americans now in possession of a smartphone. But what about those who cannot afford a smartphone, tablet, and/or the mobile data plan that powers those devices? A new initiative in the US is allowing people to rent WiFi hotspots from libraries in the same fashion one would rent a book.

Public domain photo/ Bergsten

Public domain photo/ Bergsten

Renting a Hotspot

For the less fortunate communities in America, reliable access to the Internet is a constant frustration. Whether economic means limit the ability of people to access the web from home, or long lines at the local library make it difficult to get uninterrupted access, a lack of connectivity can have a major impact on their life. Before making the assumption that these people want to play Angry Birds or catch up with the Kardashians, consider the real-world importance of the Internet.

Many of those who lack a reliable, or any, Internet connection have a tough time finding jobs and furthering their education. Now, as USA Today documents, the public library systems in New York City and Chicago are working to provide Internet in the homes of underserved communities.

The program allows library patrons to check out an LTE cellular router that provides a mobile WiFi hotspot. The program is possible thanks to funding grants from the Knight News Challenge. The goal of the Knight Foundation is “to support transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities, and foster the arts.”

The WiFi hotspots offered by the New York Public Library have been distributed to 100 families through a pilot program. The library hopes to extend the program in the near future to other underserved communities in New York.

The Chicago Public Library will launch a similar program in 2015. Both programs have a focus on providing digital literacy training for patrons renting the WiFi hotspots. The New York Public Library notes that the program helps meet a shortfall in onsite access. According to Tony Marx, president of the New York Public Library, “people are lining up at the libraries for access to computers and frustrated that they can’t continue that work at home.”

The library system in New York notes that 55% of its patrons accessing library computers do not have access to the web at home. The program will not only provide those individuals with access from home, but make it easier for children and adults to use the web for after-school education, English language instruction, and computer instruction.

Current Work and Future Limitations

The Chicago Public Library plan is to provide hotspots to individuals living in six neighborhoods of the city with poor or nonexistent broadband access. Each patron can rent the WiFi hotspot for up to three weeks. The New York City plan, as mentioned, is limited to 100 patrons at the moment. Each patron can rent the hotspot for up to one year. According to Engadget, a similar landline program is offered by Comcast. The nation’s largest broadband provider offers the Internet Essentials program. It has similar goals to the library WiFi hotspot program, but is limited to in-home access.

Under the public library plan in both cities, recipients can access the web and any information they need wherever they have a wireless signal. However, even the library programs have drawbacks. The aim and capability is impressive, but funding for future, large-scale rollouts remains unknown. While both cities have secured funds for testing phases, it is not known if either will receive the funding to expand the programs significantly.

Providing people with access to the Internet can have a profound impact on their lives. Libraries have served as centers for fair access to knowledge in the US for decades. Now, there is potential to fully integrate libraries into the digital age with a WiFi hotspot program. If successful, these programs have the potential to provide a new generation with access to information that can improve their lives, enhance their education, and prepare them for a more successful future.

Guest Author :

Keith Ortiz is a self-admitted technology and computer geek. When he has the time, he likes to share what he has discovered by posting online. You can find his informative articles on a variety of blogs and websites today.

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  1. 3 Reasons You May Need a Cellular Router | LTE cellular router says:

    […] when you lose connection when you are out of range, a great electronic to look into purchasing is a cellular router. Cellular routers provide great connection to shared devices and can either be portable or […]

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