NYC libraries to lend out 10,000 Wi-Fi hotspots

With the help of Mobile Beacon, libraries in the five boroughs of New York City will be lending out 10,000 high-speed hotspots to low-income residents who qualify. The Johnston, R.I.-based nonprofit is partnering with Sprint to distribute the hotspots.

New York Public Library (NYPL) first conducted a pilot lending program last spring using 100 Wi-Fi modems with unlimited 4G data plans through Mobile Beacon. Using Mobile Beacon's donation program and low-cost 4G service, NYPL was able to keep initial pilot costs at about $5,000.

"We're very excited about the program," said Katherine Messier, founder and managing director of Mobile Beacon, in an interview with FierceWirelessTech."It's such a simple idea," using libraries--the experts in lending, after all, to reach those who don't have access to mobile broadband in their homes. "It's going to be able to do a lot of good."

While the New York City Library Hotspot program is the largest Internet lending program of its kind in the United States, Mobile Beacon is working with libraries in other cities and states as well.

The NYPL became interested after it had heard of a similar program that Mobile Beacon did with the Providence, R.I., community library, in the 2012 timeframe. The NYPL launched its pilot after a survey of patrons showed that 55 percent of those using free Internet and computers in its branches did not have broadband access at home. When household income dropped to under $25,000, about 65 percent reported having no access.

It's all part of NYC's efforts to made broadband available to more people. Last year, the city announced it will conduct the fastest and largest free municipal Wi-Fi deployment in the world, with construction on the network to begin this year. The project is part of a public-private partnership between the Mayor's Office of Technology and Innovation, the Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications (DoITT) and CityBridge, a New York City-based consortium whose members and extended team include Qualcomm, Transit Wireless, Control Group, Titan and Antenna Design.

Mobile Beacon is a nonprofit educational broadband service (EBS) licensee. It initially entered into an agreement with Clearwire, and that transferred to Sprint when it bought Clearwire in 2013. New York City is within Sprint's Spark network, which is designed to deliver peak wireless speeds of 50-60 Mbps. If patrons move out of an LTE coverage area, they are able to access Sprint's 3G network.

The libraries are provisioning the hotspots on their own timelines, with the plan being to deploy all 10,000 hotspots this year, Messier said. The pocket-sized hotspots, provided by Netgear, will connect up to nine other Wi-Fi devices in a household.

Lending requirements are up to the libraries. In the Brooklyn Public Library (BPL), patrons are eligible to borrow devices for one year if they don't have broadband at home and are enrolled in one of BPL's adult education or inclusion.

The NYPL, which covers the Bronx, Manhattan and Staten Island, people are eligible to borrow devices for six months if they don't have broadband at home and are currently enrolled in one of several library programs, including after-school programs or adult learning programs. At Queens Library, patrons enrolled in one of its adult learning programs can borrow a hotspot for three months and request renewals in select branches.

Google committed to a $1 million donation to the program, as well as providing the city's library system with 500 Google Chromebooks, which are being distributed based on need to children and teens enrolled in library after-school programs. Some Wi-Fi devices also are being distributed to support similar pilot programs in libraries in Maine and Kansas.  

For more:
- see this Associated Press story

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