Program that lends wireless internet to needy expanded

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The Toronto Public Library is expanding a pilot project that lets low-income users to take the internet home with them. It has proven so popular that library officials are looking to expand it over the summer.

The Toronto Public Library partnered with Google Canada last summer to lend out some 200 Wi-Fi hotspots for six months at a time. Now, after a survey of those who borrowed the devices found 97 per cent of people were happy with the program, library officials are hoping to get 500 into circulation by the end of the summer.

The survey found 68 per cent of those who used the program reported that their household income was less than $30,000 and nearly eight in 10 said internet service was too expensive for them to buy themselves.

Library officials say most people used the internet the same way as everyone else, but there were some key highlights.

The survey found 76 per cent of borrowers said they used it to advance their education, while 36 per cent said it helped with employment.

That’s good news, Doucette said, as the city is hoping the pilot will help reduce poverty.

Currently, the devices are only available at six library branches, all located in priority neighbourhoods. Pam Ryan, the library’s director of service development and innovation, said the library will continue its efforts to get the devices to those who need it most, and that community librarians and bookmobiles may also start handing them out this year.

The library is still looking for more third-party support as the pilot project continues. The report notes the library is also interested in loaning out other devices, like laptop computers or tablets, in the future.

Given that it isn’t just the real poor that use the internet but even many middle-class young unemployed people, this program may really be beyond the scope of the Toronto Library. The government would at some point have to step in and device a way to make the internet a lot more affordable given it is almost as important as having running water and hydro in a home. – CINEWS

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