Providence Community Library is loaning out the internet. Literally. They have purchased two hotspots from Mobile Beacon. Library patrons can check out the hotspots for up to a week. The hotspots can accommodate up to five users at a time, with no bandwidth usage limits. Library director Laura Marlane explains:
“More libraries need to be customer service driven. It’s about providing the access our community members need. They need access to the internet at home or wherever they may be. They need access through any kind of device (tablet, smart phone, laptop, desktop) and they need multiple family members to be able to access the internet simultaneously. We are meeting the needs of our community.”
Providence Community Library initially purchased two Mobile Beacon hotspots (at $100 each device plus $120/year for the service). They placed the hotspots into circulation at a library branch that serves a neighborhood with low rates of home broadband service. The hotspots were promoted through their website, newsletter, Facebook page, and posters. The response was immediate. The hotspots are so popular, Providence Community Library is purchasing one additional device for the pilot branch and three devices for an additional branch. They intend to keep records of the success of the offering so they can request grant funds for additional devices.
Providence Community Library has posted the lending guidelines for their hotspots. They do have additional borrowing requirements including a signed user agreement, similar to loaning out a technology device. Providence Community Library can shut down the internet service to the device and they make this fact known.
Mobile Beacon is the internet service provider for the hotspots being loaned out by the Providence Community Library. Mobile Beacon is selling access to Mobile Citizen, also a Clear reseller available to non-profit, education and government. Both Mobile Beacon and Mobile Citizen sell unlimited access for $120/year. They were both created by nonprofit organizations. The service area of both is limited to Clear’s coverage map which is mostly urban. The biggest difference between Mobile Beacon and Mobile Citizen is Mobile Beacon’s partnership with TechSoup, through whom Mobile Beacon is donating up to ten devices per nonprofit or library. Mobile Beacon will be increasing their device donations via TechSoup. Watch for an announcement at the end of March.
Providence Community Library is not alone in its attempt to increase home broadband access through use of a Clear reseller. Two Sustainable Broadband Adoption (SBA) grantees of the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA)’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) are providing broadband access via Mobile Citizen to program participants. In Cleveland, OneCommunity has partnered with College Now to provide a refurbished computer and one year of Mobile Citizen broadband service to parents of college bound high school students for $120. In Philadelphia, the Freedom Rings Partnership established a partnership between Wilco Electronic Systems and Mobile Citizen to offer eligible program participants Mobile Citizen broadband service for $14.95/month ($179.40/year). In both situations, the cost of the Mobile Citizen devices and service is being subsidized in part by the grant programs.
Of the three examples listed, none are long-term broadband service solutions. All three do address the issue of cost as a barrier to broadband adoption. Nationally, cost is the greatest barrier to home broadband service, even more so for low-income households (Mossberger, Tolbert and Franko 2012). A related barrier is perception of relevance. The more an individual uses the internet, the more s/he comes to rely upon it, as most of us can attest. All three cited examples have the potential of guiding more individuals to sustained broadband use.
Less clear is the impact on broadband adoption by resellers of the Clear network selling to individuals (rather than non-profit, education and government). Two popular low cost options are FreedomPop and Karma. They both offer monthly pricing plans (contract free) that include creative options to earn additional bandwidth. FreedomPop and Karma both have usage limits, unlike Mobile Citizen and Mobile Beacon. You can find a review of FreedomPop on Forbes and a review of Karma on TechCrunch.
With low-cost broadband options limited in many locations, it is great to see creative solutions to expand broadband access.