RED WING -- The Red Wing Public Library, like most libraries, is in the business of lending. Now a new item is available to be checked-out: a internet hot spot.
Randy Decker covers public services for the library. He explained that the library had considered buying hot spots for a few years, but in the past they were too expensive. One estimate was about $1,000 per device annually.
This changed when nonprofits Mobile Beacon and TechSoup collaborated to provide the hot spots to nonprofits and libraries at $15 per device.
Currently, checkout is free for patrons due to funding from the Friends of the Red Wing Library for the 10 hot spots.
The hot spots were first available on Dec. 1, and they were an immediate success. Decker recounted one encounter with an excited patron:
“She was saying her husband refused to believe that we wouldn’t charge him for it. He was like, ‘This can’t be free, can it?’ Because they pay a lot.”
Decker explained that the internet service can be expensive or not accessible for some area residents.
“People who live out in the country don’t have other high speed access. There’s people who just can’t afford internet access,” Decker stated.
While the library offers free wifi, the service has limited hours and requires patrons to be in the building. With the hot spot, any who has a Red Wing library card can use a device for two weeks. If there is no one waiting to check out the hot spot, the patron can renew for two more weeks.
Decker said that he and the library staff are not worried about the hot spots being stolen. He explained:
“We don’t have to worry about theft because if someone were to take it we just turn it off and it becomes a paper weight.”
Staff hope that the hot spots will help to “bridge the digital divide” for those living in the area.
According to the Pew Research Center, the number of U.S. residents who use and have access to the internet has, unsurprisingly, increased over the past two decades.
In 2000, 79% of adults ages 18 to 29 used the internet. By 2018, that percentage had risen to 98%. For those 65 and older, in 2000 only 14% used the internet. Now, 73% are online.
While the use of the internet is climbing, there are still people and communities who are not able to access reliable internet.
A 2018 study by the Institute of Education Sciences -- part of the National Center for Education Statistics -- found that fewer students in rural communities had access to broadband (fast internet, not dial-up) than their suburban peers (71% versus 84%). Meanwhile, only 65% of students in remote rural areas had broadband access.
The Institute of Education Sciences study found that there is also a gap between white students and students of color. Thirteen percent of white students in rural areas reported having no access to the internet or only having dial-up But 41% of African American students and 26% of Latinx students living in rural America reported having no access to the internet or only dial-up.
The lack of reliable internet hinders academic success. The report states:
“Students without home internet access had lower assessment scores in reading, mathematics and science across a range of national and international assessments. International comparisons against advanced countries showed that the United States had a higher than average percentage of 16 to 19 year olds with the lowest level of computer literacy skills.”
According to Minnesota’s Office of Broadband Development’s January 2020 report, 92.79% of Minnesota households had broadband access.
While 10 hot spots at the Red Wing Public Library will not end internet inequality, it will help local residents.
Decker concluded, “Those of us who are fortunate enough to afford internet or have it take for granted how much easier it makes your life.”