Wi-fi hotspot lending scheme launched in Toronto pilot project

wi-fiMayor John Tory, Toronto Public Library (TPL) and Google Canada on Wednesday announced an innovative wi-fi hotspot lending library program that will give Torontonians free Internet at home.

The pilot program has started in six TPL branches: Albion, Cedarbrae, Evelyn Gregory, Parliament Street, Thorncliffe and York Woods, and was made possible by a donation from Google.org and funds from the City of Toronto through the 2016 operating budget.

TPL has identified a total of 210 pilot participants. All participating branches are located in neighbourhood improvement areas, serving large numbers of low income households with a higher likelihood of not have Internet access at home.

Digital divide

“We need programs like this one to help close the digital divide. People who can’t afford broadband Internet at home are at a significant disadvantage when it comes to school, looking for jobs or accessing government services and education,” said Vickery Bowles, City Librarian. “Internet access is essential in our digital world. We’re proud to pilot this program and hopeful we can increase its reach in the future.”

All participants are asked attend an orientation session to learn about the hotspots, and also to learn how to access TPL eLearning resources and other useful library resources including ebooks, digital magazines and more.

Investing in people

“We are choosing to invest in people by providing Internet access to neighbourhoods which need it most. The program will give our vulnerable residents the opportunity to look for jobs, do homework or use City services,” said Mayor John Tory. “This program, along with several other measures in the Poverty Reduction Strategy from the 2016 budget, will make a difference in people’s lives, provide hope and opportunity, and make our city a fairer more inclusive place to live.”

Pilot participants can borrow the hotspots for up to six months at a time, and can use 10GB of data per month. This differs from the wi-fi hotspot lending that other library systems offer – notably, Edmonton Public Library, Kitchener Public Library, Chicago Public Library, New York Public Library, and Seattle Public Library – in that those libraries have access to unlimited data plans for borrowers. TPL continues to investigate if vendors are willing to provide more flexible data services as this is critical to the program’s long-term success.

“Lending WiFi hotspots to households who don’t have access to the Internet is a simple, effective way to help those who need broadband and technology the most. Through this project Google hopes to give some of the most underserved in our city a way to bridge the tech divide,” said Sam Sebastian, Managing Director, Google Canada.

The wi-fi hotspot lending pilot program will be evaluated after one year and recommendations will be made about the future of the program at that time. – Toronto Library/CINEWS

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