What if you could check out internet access at the library and take it home with you? The public library system in Onondaga County, New York is investing $100,000 into a program that lets residents check out computers and wifi hotspots from the library for up to six weeks. The goal of the program is to bridge the digital divide in a county where affordable broadband can be hard to come by.
Onondaga County libraries already offer “tech packs” which include a hotspot and a Chromebook and the new program will expand the number of them that are available for check out. Through the program, residents can check out a tech pack for three weeks and renew it for up to an additional three weeks. The hotspots use mobile networks to offer internet connectivity.
With the investment, the number of tech packs will grow to over 200. 41 tech packs are currently available and the library system will be purchasing another 176.
The project is being led by County Executive Ryan McMahon who has put an emphasis on broadband expansion during his tenure. He hopes that with the tech packs school children, as well as low-income residents, will be able to go online.
Many library systems offer access to laptops while in the library and some even allow users to take them home, but without the internet at home use can be limited. Libraries initially responded by becoming wifi hotspots or offering TV White Space broadband trials that could connect neighboring residents. Onondaga County’s plan solves for at home connectivity in an innovative way and helps people that may live outside the library’s wifi hotspot range.
Janet Park, executive director of the Onondaga County Library System told local public radio station WRVO that the tech packs could also help people who sometimes come to the library parking lot and sit in their cars to go online. “When you come by our library sometimes at night, there will be people sitting in the parking lot, and I’ve had people thinking they’re up to no good. But they want our wireless,” said Park.