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Alachua County, Fla., Offers Hot Spots for Library Members

Thanks to a program created by the Alachua County Library District in Florida, library cardholders can check out Wi-Fi hot spots with no fees. Currently, the district has 200 hot spots that residents can use.

(TNS) — Alachua County Library District cardholders can check out mobile Wi-Fi hot spots to connect to the Internet on computers, smartphones and other devices.

Up to five devices can connect to the hot spot at one time, and there are no data plan fees or data limits. Service depends on the availability of the T-Mobile network where the hot spot is being used. Mobile hot spots, which can be reserved in the online catalog, by phone or in person, can be checked out for seven days and can be returned to any library branch.

"The Library District created this program to help bridge the digital divide in Alachua County," said Library District Director Shaney T. Livingston. "We thank the Alachua County Library District Foundation for generously supporting this pilot program to increase Internet access."

Juan Giulani said he had moved recently and didn't have an Internet connection, but using the WiFi2GO program helped him get back on track. Giulani said he reserved a WiFi2GO hotspot in March, and one-week later he was able check-it out, and found it easy to get it started.

"Having the WiFi2GO hotspot helps me a lot," Giulani said. "It was pretty straight forward. Plug and play, and it came already charged and good to go to use with my laptop. It's very useful, and it allows me to work from home. It's not complicated, and it's reliable."

The foundation provided the Library District with the first 100 mobile hot spots in March, and they were a smash hit. The foundation provided an additional 100 mobile hot spots in August, and the cost for the total of 200 hot spots was $72,000, said Hunt Davis Jr., chair of the foundation.

Checking out the hot spots is as easy as checking out books, Davis said.

"The foundation's mission is to provide supplemental funding to the library with an emphasis on long-term and planned giving," Davis said. "The vision is to enhance the lives of everyone in the community."

Rachel Cook, public relations and marketing manager for the Alachua County Library District, said via email that while Internet access is critical to education, employment and community connection, many residents still lack reliable service, particularly in rural areas. She said about 91 percent of urban Alachua County residents have access to three or more broadband providers, but only 70 percent of rural residents do, according to the Federal Communications Commission.

Nationwide, minorities, rural residents, seniors and people with lower levels of income and education are less likely to have broadband service at home, according to the Pew Research Center.

Cook said from April 1 through Aug. 20, the hot spots were checked out 1,147 times.

"The foundation has been very pleased with the success of the initial WiFi2Go program and is very pleased to be able to fund a second phase, providing for another 100 hotpots. Our funding for this program is possible thanks to a generous anonymous donor, the efforts of our associates, and the donations of the many supporters of the library," said ACLD Foundation Vice Chair Mitzi Austin. "The board and associates of the foundation are impressed with the far-sighted efforts of the Library District in going beyond the traditional books to provide service to the community."

©2021 The Gainesville Sun, Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.