Mobile Beacon Partners with Sprint on the Largest U.S. Library Internet Lending Pilot

10,000 mobile hotspots to help close the digital divide in New York City

JOHNSTON, RI, – Mobile Beacon, a national Educational Broadband Service (EBS) provider of low-cost, 4G mobile Internet access for schools, libraries and nonprofits, has teamed with Sprint to distribute 10,000 mobile hotspots through New York City’s three library systems.

This Library Hotspot program is the largest Internet lending program of its kind in the United States. Together Mobile Beacon and Sprint are providing unlimited 4G Internet service on Sprint Spark, an enhanced LTE service that is built for data and designed to deliver peak wireless speeds of 50-60 Mbps. If patrons move out of a 4G coverage area, they will be able to access Sprint’s 3G network, ensuring greater continuity of service throughout the City.

New York Public Library (NYPL) first piloted the model for the Library Hotspot lending program in the spring using 100 Wi-Fi modems with unlimited 4G data plans through Mobile Beacon. Using Mobile Beacon’s donation program and low-cost 4G service, NYPL was able to keep initial pilot costs at about $5,000.

The momentum for the pilot began after a survey of patrons revealed that 55 percent of those utilizing free Internet and computers in NYPL’s branches did not have broadband access at home. For patrons whose household income was below $25,000, the percentage without home Internet access increased to 65 percent.

“It is simply unfathomable that in the digital world in which we live, one-third of New Yorkers do not have access to broadband internet at home, putting them at a serious disadvantage at school, in applying for jobs, and so much more,” said NYPL President, Tony Marx. “The Library Hotspot program is a big step forward to help close the digital divide, and set an example for the country.”

Understanding that patrons’ need for access goes beyond the physical boundaries of the library, NYPL initially tested the mobile Internet lending model by distributing 100 of Mobile Beacon’s Wi-Fi modems to patrons participating in one of its Out of School Time (OST) programs. This enabled patrons across four branches to “borrow the Internet” for six months at a time.

Key findings from the initial pilot:

  • Patrons spent an average of three hours a day using the Internet (compared to a 40-minute session using a library workstation).
  • The majority of time online was during the hours of 6 pm – 11 pm when the library was closed.
  • Patrons used an average of 9 GB of data per month.
  • 86% of participants reported they would renew this service.

These results helped NYPL secure a grant from the Knight News Challenge, an initiative of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation, Open Society Foundations, and Robin Hood Foundation, and an additional $1 million donation from Google.

The new, expanded pilot program now provides 10,000 mobile hotspots through Mobile Beacon and Sprint’s partnership. These hotspots will provide free at-home Internet access to patrons across NYPL’s 88 branches, as well as Brooklyn Public Library and Queens Library. Each library is rolling out the service slightly differently:

  • Brooklyn Public Library is allowing patrons without Internet access at home who are enrolled in one of BPL’s adult education or inclusion programs to borrow the hotspots for one year.
  • NYPL is allowing patrons to borrow devices for up to a year if they don’t have home Internet access and are enrolled in of several library programs, including after-school or adult learning programs.
  • Queens Library patrons enrolled in one of its adult learning programs can borrow a hotspot for three months and request renewals in select branches such as the Jamaica, Forest Hills, and Far Rockaway library locations, with more hotspot loaner devices becoming available at additional branches in the coming weeks.

“Closing the digital divide requires a holistic approach that addresses affordable connectivity, training, and hardware. Mobile Beacon greatly reduces the cost of mobile, 24/7 Internet access, which helps solve one important part of the problem,” said Katherine Messier, Managing Director of Mobile Beacon. “Combining that with the programs these library systems are offering – after-school programs, adult education, loaner laptops, digital literacy training –that’s what creates a sustainable platform for adoption and lifelong learning.”

“As one of Sprint’s largest EBS partners, we’re excited to be partnering with them on this program. This public-private partnership gets to the heart of the issues that the Federal Communications Commission’s E-Rate NPRM and the White House’s ConnectED initiative seek to address to make anytime-anywhere learning a reality for all Americans,” she added.

This Internet lending model is a trend that is gaining traction among library systems across the United States. For more information on Mobile Beacon’s work with libraries, schools and nonprofits, visit www.mobilebeacon.org.

About Mobile Beacon
Mobile Beacon provides fourth generation (4G) mobile broadband services exclusively to schools, libraries and nonprofit organizations across the United States through an agreement with Sprint. Mobile Beacon was created by a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization and the second largest national educational broadband service (EBS) provider in the country. We help educators and nonprofits get the Internet access they need and extend access within their communities to those who need it most. Learn more and visit Mobile Beacon at https://www.mobilebeacon.org, www.facebook.com/mobilebeacon, and www.twitter.com/mobilebeacon.

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