|image courtesy of Pixabay|
Each of the libraries are using a different strategy in their implementation of the hotspots. The Queens Public Library and Brooklyn Public Library loan the hotspots out for longer periods, and Chicago Public Library loans them for shorter periods, using a logistics company to keep track of the devices and shut them down if they are overdue. Hopefully, analyzing both programs will provide quality data on the short vs. long loan period and overall usage.
A couple questions still remain, such as long term funding and privacy (the hotspots provided by Sprint tracks and retains usage history). These are definitely concerns that need to be addressed, especially privacy as it pertains to libraries.
While the hotspot lending programs are helping to narrow the digital divide on a smaller, more temporary scale, the ConnectHome Broadband Initiative looks to do the same on a larger scale, more permanent scale. This initiative looks to provide high speed internet access to more than 275,000 low-income households. The program is launching in 27 cities and will look to expand in the near future. The initiative consists of many partners including the Department of Housing and Urban Development, Best Buy, Boys and Girls Clubs of America, and PBS, among others. A big contributing partner to this program will be public libraries. The recent Council of Economic Advisers report, Mapping the Digital Divide, goes over the current landscape in the US looking at connectivity and what are the factors that determine who is connected and who isn't, with income arguably being the most crucial.
Below is a map of the United States (courtesy of Vox Media, first shown in an article on The Verge website), showing the percentage of people with home internet access and the mean household income by county:
The libraries doing the hotspot lending project are reporting that it is very popular. It is becoming more and more apparent how important it is for communities to be able to access the internet, comparing connecting to the internet with electricity and water. Wisconsin libraries continues to improve its connectivity for its communities
Ryan Claringbole, Public Library Development Team