New York City is planning to start offering a city-wide Wifi network starting in 2015, but that’s going to take some time to install, and in the meantime the NY public libraries are going to offer an interim solution to help more residents gain access to broadband.
The Washington Post reported that NYC’s three library systems, the NYPL, Brooklyn PL, and Queens PL, will soon be lending mobile hotspots:
The hotspots allow users to connect up to 10 mobile devices like laptops, tablets, mobile phones, and gaming devices to zippy 4G LTE broadband. The devices, powered by Sprint, usually cost $49 with a two-year service agreement and a $110 a month fee for 30 GB of data.
But New York libraries will loan hundreds of them to residents. The catch? They’re free with unlimited data as long as the borrower is enrolled in a library program, from citizenship classes to adult literacy. …
The program, called “Check Out The Internet,” is part of an ambitious plan to get more New Yorkers online and close the digital divide. Mayor Bill de Blasio recently announced a plan to turn city pay phones into WiFi hotspots and he has worked to push Verizon to expand its FiOS service.
While the libraries support patrons with free Wifi at branches, the librarians knew that there was still an unmet need in the community. According to a survey by the NYPL, more than half of those who use the computers and Internet at their branches don’t have broadband Internet access at their homes. “Too many Brooklyn residents are on the wrong side of the digital divide,” said Linda E. Johnson, president and CEO of Brooklyn Public Library said.
She added: “Free Wi-Fi at local BPL branches is a vital resource, but it can’t make up for the lack of internet access in the home — access that helps children succeed in school, and provides parents with critical information on health, employment, education, and more.”
The program will include 10,000 devices and cost $2.5 million. The library systems will be paying for it in part from the $10 million increase in funding provided by the city’s 2015 budget. That’s the first increase in city funding since 2008, and it could mark an end to the semiannual fights to stave off budget cuts. It will also be funded by a $1 million grant from Google and a $500,000 award from the Knight News Challenge.
There’s no word yet on how replacement units will be paid for should a hotspot be lost or stolen, but that doesn’t appear to be a major concern. If a hotspot isn’t returned the library’s could assess a fine, and if worst came to worst they could always disable the service remotely.
Byt the libraries don’t expect that to happen. Asked about theft of the devices, NYPL president and CEOTony Marx said, “The library lends books, and we get them back. We lend out laptops worth well over a thousand dollars for use in the branches in the poorest neighborhoods in New York. There’s no security guard at the door, and we have almost no loss rate.”
Actually, that’s not strictly true; there were security guards in all of the NYPL libraries I’ve visited, and they’ve always checked my bag on the way out. I’m not sure what that was supposed to accomplish other than intimidation, given that it wouldn’t be hard to disguise a stolen item, but they did.
images by NYPL, catherinecronin