Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Chicago Public Library (CPL) Commissioner Brian Bannon announced today that the “Internet to Go” hotspot lending pilot program will begin in three CPL locations in next month: Brighton Park, Greater Grand Crossing, and Douglass branches. In partnership with the Chicago Public Library Foundation, this program was jumpstarted by a $400,000 grant from the Knight Foundation. Google will also contribute $175,000 to support the initiative.
“Closing the digital divide is essential to opening more doors of opportunity for every resident in the City of Chicago and this effort will help us make even more progress toward that goal,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel. “I am grateful to the Knight Foundation and Google for supporting this effort that will put 21st century technology in the hands of more residents in more Chicago neighborhoods so they can finally connect to the economic opportunities they deserve.”
A 2011 study revealed that in-home broadband use in many of Chicago’s lowest-income neighborhoods barely hits the 50 percent mark, and in a subset of the lowest income areas, is significantly lower. This program will help bridge the digital divide in Chicago, as each of the three pilot locations will circulate approximately 100 hotspot devices. Residents in these communities will be able to borrow Wi-Fi hotspots for up to three weeks at a time. The pilot will test the idea that three-week loans of hotspots, when combined with enhanced digital skills coaching, will improve online engagement and fluency in these communities.
The new tech lending program will also allow library patrons the ability to borrow a laptop or mobile device from the library in order to connect to the internet from home or on the go; the three pilot locations will each have up to 10 tablets available. Once tested, the pilot will expand to at least three additional communities.
CPL is already the largest provider of free internet access through its 80 locations in Chicago communities, and the City of Chicago and CPL are committed to increasing the number of digitally connected and engaged Chicagoans through this pilot.
“The importance of Internet access and digital literacy skills in today’s economy is clear,” said CPL Commissioner Bannon. “We are committed to working with public and private entities to bridge the digital divide throughout the city.”
In 2014, CPL was one of 19 winners out of 700 cities that applied to the Knight News Challenge, which sought breakthrough ideas that strengthen the Internet for freedom of expression and innovation. This $400,000 in grant funding has jumpstarted the “Internet to Go” pilot program.
Google will also provide $175,000 to support the initiative, which is the second major CPL tech lending initiative supported by Google. In April 2014, Google donated 500 Finch Robots for circulation to help kids as young as 8 years old learn computer coding.
"This is such an important effort for Google. We know that the Internet has the power to not only connect people around the world, but also bring together our own communities," said Jim Lecinski, head of the Google's Chicago office. "This innovative program is a simple, effective way to help those who need broadband and technology the most."
Digital literacy and internet access can help people succeed in today’s economy. Preliminary data from the City’s computer access centers in targeted neighborhoods indicate that Chicago residents who have received technology training from those centers in are 13 percent more likely to obtain employment or increase their net income.
CPL also supports digital literacy and skill development by providing in-library experts, called CyberNavigators, who help Chicagoans through nearly 100,000 computer tutoring sessions per year. CyberNavigators will be available at Douglass, Brighton Park and Greater Grand Crossing branches to complement the “Internet to Go” program by providing digital skills training and is strongly supported by the generosity of the Chicago Public Library Foundation.