CHICAGO — The city is looking to bridge the digital divide by allowing library patrons to check out mobile Internet hot spot devices.
Mayor Rahm Emanuel announced Wednesday morning that the pilot program for lending the Internet-to-go hots spots will begin next month. The pilot program will be in three libraries: Brighton Park, 4314 S. Archer Ave.; Greater Grand Crossing, 1000 E. 73rd St.; and Douglass, 3353 W. 13th St., the city said via a news release.
The pilot program follows a 2011 study that found in-home broadband use barely reaches 50 percent in homes in Chicago's lowest-income neighborhoods. The numbers were significantly lower in the lowest income areas, the city said.
“We have worked to increase Internet connectivity and knowledge for residents in all of Chicago’s neighborhoods because Internet access and digital skills are necessary for success in the 21st century workforce,” Emanuel said.
Each of the libraries will be equipped with about 100 mobile hot spot units available for loan for three weeks at a time.
The tech lending program also allows residents to borrow laptops and tablets. Each library will have 10 tablets available for rent. The program hopes the hot spot loans, combined with enhanced digital skills coaching "will improve online engagement and fluency in these communities," the city said.
After testing the hot spot program, the city plans to roll it out at three more locations.
“The importance of Internet access and digital literacy skills in today’s economy is clear. We are committed to working with public and private entities to bridge the digital divide throughout the city,” said Brian Bannon, commissioner of the Chicago Public Library, already the largest provider of free Internet throughout the city, with 80 locations.
The program was funded by a $400,000 grant from the Knight News Challenge. Google also will contribute $175,000.
Their contributions "will help to provide Chicagoans with the free, portable, high-speed Internet tools that will help our children become the great thinkers and innovators of tomorrow," Emanuel said.
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