Buckham Memorial Library is undertaking a pilot hot spot program.
Library Director Delane James noted nine T-Mobile hot spots have been available over the past month for free in a “soft launch” before the city’s Library Advisory Board sets a policy for the devices this summer. The plan is expected to be reviewed with the Library Board Monday night. The board could then adopt the policy or delay action. The hot spots are available for a maximum of one week for free.
James noted the city is not seeking to become an internet service provider through the program but instead helping people who need temporary access to hot spots, whether it is because they lost home services, need internet access on a Sunday, or are heading out-of-town on a trip without Wi-Fi access. Several devices can be hooked up to the hot spots, and there are no data caps. If a hot spot is overdue, it is shut off. The renter would then be charged for the cost of the device.
The hot spots are included in the library’s technology budget. To James, the need for hot spots was especially highlighted by the pandemic: For several months, library computers were unavailable for use. James noted school children were set up with Wi-Fi hot spots for distance learning, but for people who no longer have that access, not having internet access can pose a hardship.
“It seemed like a good way to provide more access,” she said.
James noted many libraries around the country have had hot spots available to be rented for several years. According to Statista, a German company specializing in market and consumer data, the number of public Wi-Fi hotspots available worldwide has vastly increased, from 940 million in 2016 to 5.42 billion this year. Hot spots are commonly found in coffee shops, fuel stations, hotels, libraries, and numerous other locations.
The data aggregation company Broadband Now has found that nearly 94% of Rice County is covered by broadband. However, that number drops to 74.9% in Goodhue County.
The local program comes as broadband access continues to be a challenge — especially in rural areas. Rice County spent some of its federal COVID-19 funding on expanding broadband internet, but there’s still more work to be done, Rice County Commissioner Steve Underdahl said during a call last month with Freeborn County officials and Minnesota Congresswoman Amy Klobuchar. With the next round of federal funding that’s coming, Underdahl said they’re interested in spending it on an initiative that will be sustainable into the future. Broadband infrastructure is an investment that the county will receive a return on for many years to come, he said, adding that they look forward to helping communities grow and nurture, especially in education.