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Library Offers Free Take-Home Internet

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.

library2Chelsea 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. Other libraries, as well as schools and non-profits, are doing the same, looking to the nonprofit organization Mobile Beacon. Mobile Beacon helps to bridge the digital divide by supplying mobile hotspots, computers, and unlimited broadband to other non-profits, schools, and libraries 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