The monthly cost of home broadband service is not the only financial barrier to home broadband adoption. Without a device through which a person can access the internet, such a service is meaningless. The type of device can also have a major impact on the individual’s ability to use the internet in a meaningful way; while a smartphone is useful for communication or social media, it is not ideal for filling out a job application, doing homework, or working from home. For these tasks, an individual often needs a computer, which can be costly.
One method for improving access to low-cost computing devices is to create a device refurbishment or recycle program in the community, or partner with an existing organization that provides such a service. Community teams can encourage public institutions, including counties, local government, community colleges, and others, to consider computer donations to new or existing non-profit organizations to maximize available devices for vulnerable populations. Refurbished computers and other devices offered at low cost can provide those in need with the means to connect to the internet and reduce or eliminate the device cost barrier to home broadband adoption.
Additionally, communities can also support low-cost connectivity through their libraries or schools. Leasable wireless hotspots and Wi-Fi equipped devices available for a short lending period from the library or school can offer vulnerable populations a means to connect for low or no cost, albeit for a short period of time.
Charitable Computer Reuse and Recycling: https://interconnection.org/
Mobile Beacon (providing low-cost wireless hotspots and devices for schools and libraries): https://www.mobilebeacon.org/
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When applying for jobs, taking an online course, finishing homework, or even setting up an e-mail account, many of the approximately 90 million Americans who do not have adequate Internet access at home turn to their local libraries. New programs offering mobile Internet access are now allowing library patrons to take the Internet with them when the library closes its doors at night.
Chelsea District Library (CDL) in Washtenaw County, Michigan began offering “CDL Hotspots” in June, allowing library card holders to check out a device which provides wireless broadband Internet access up to 40 feet for up to 10 devices. Each person or family may rent a device for up to three weeks, the same rental period allowed for most books, and rental requires only a valid CDL library card. This allows K-12 students to check out a device to finish up homework, helps students attending nearby colleges and universities cut expenses through free Internet access, gives elderly residents a way to stay in touch at home, and provides many other opportunities.
CDL Library patrons caught on immediately and showed a high level of interest in the new program. “All fifteen devices were checked out the first day we went live,” said Melanie Bell, Chelsea District Library Network Administrator, “and we have had a wait list of at least twenty-five people consistently since then.”
With an overwhelming response from patrons, the library is exploring avenues to get more Wi-Fi devices at affordable prices. Working with other organizations including TechSoup, Digital Wish, and PCs for People, among others, Mobile Beacon distributes unlimited, affordable Internet (ten dollars a month to qualifying non-profits), computers, and hotspot devices to non-profits, schools, and libraries across the country. As of 2014, Mobile Beacon launched the largest hotspot lending program in the country, with over 10,000 4G LTE hotspots circulating across 88 libraries in New York City alone.
As Mobile Beacon and similar programs continue to expand their reach, more deserving groups are taking notice and using this valuable resource. CDL is one of many institutions across Michigan and across the country to benefit from affordable Internet, computers, and mobile hotspots. To learn more about free technology services in your area, ask the experts at your local library. To learn more about broadband and technology donations programs, visit www.mobilebeacon.org.