A mobile hotspot pilot project with grant funding kicks off this month at St. Mary’s County Library. This project provides free portable WiFi units for a checkout period of two weeks. Mobile hotspots are portable WiFi units that can be checked out of the library and taken to a customer’s home. They do require network coverage from the service provider network in order to provide WiFi connectivity.
According to Sara Stephenson, Virtual Service Coordinator at St. Mary’s County Library, the purpose of the project is to aid students and job seekers who don’t have internet access in their homes and help bridge the digital divide in Southern Maryland. “Students often need access to the internet to complete assignments online, but they don’t always have that access available at home,” said Stephenson. According to Stephenson, it is also important that public libraries help everyone have access to and use of information and communication technologies, regardless of their economic and social standing.
St. Mary’s County Library, in a partnership with Calvert Library, Charles County Public Library and the Southern Maryland Regional Library, received a grant from the Maryland State Library and the Library Services and Technology Act through the Institute of Museum and Library Services. The grant allowed each county to purchase mobile hotspots and data plans. Each of the devices will is filtered to comply with the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA).
The hotspots work in locations with Verizon wireless internet coverage. “We are really committed to making internet accessible to as many people as possible,” said Stephenson, “and that means we have to use the provider that reaches the most remote parts of our county. Although we’re not able to guarantee coverage everywhere, we chose providers that have the greatest level of coverage in each county.”
Library customers who are 16 years of age or older can check out a mobile hotspot, but it will not automatically renew. There are no overdue fines, though data will be unavailable on overdue devices and there is a $100 replacement fee for damaged or lost devices. Due to the provider of service, a daily and checkout period data limit is imposed on hotspot checkouts.
The future of the mobile hotspot program will depend on the program success, ongoing funds and customer feedback. After six-months, the feedback (captured in customer surveys) will be analyzed and a decision will then be made about the future.
For more information about checking out hotspots, please see our Check Out a Hotspot page!