New York Public Library's Rose Main Reading Room

For the less fortunate, a library may be the only reliable way to get online. But what do they do after hours, or when they can't make the trek? That's where a pair of Knight Foundation grants may prove vital. Both the Chicago Public Library and New York Public Library are starting up large-scale projects that lend WiFi hotspots to households with little to no internet access, giving them a chance to pursue internet education programs that would otherwise be off-limits. Chicago's approach will let those in six broadband-deprived neighborhoods borrow a hotspot for up to three weeks; in New York, the library will offer mobile routers for up to a year as part of existing learning initiatives.

New York has already conducted a small-scale test, but it could be a while before there's a broader rollout in either city. The two don't get their grants until the summer, and it's going to take some time after that before the portable access points reach the public. However, they could prove very helpful in connecting low-income families where other efforts have fallen short. While a landline program like Comcast's Internet Essentials has related goals, it's limited to in-home access -- the hotspot approach lets recipients get the information they need wherever they have a wireless signal.

[Image credit: Vincent Desjardins, Flickr]

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