New York City public libraries to offer portable WiFi units

NEW YORK (WABC) -- It's a sign of the times: portable Wi-Fi units will be able to be checked out for free, just like a book, from the New York Public Library.

The city's public libraries will be offering about 10,000 portable Wi-Fi units for their patrons.

City officials say the free program will begin later this month at branches of the New York Public Library, the Queens Library and the Brooklyn Public Library.

The added wireless hubs mark an expansion of a 100-unit pilot program tested over the past six months by the library.

Internet time on a computer at any branch of the New York Public Library is worth the wait, and officials say they are filled all the time.

But now a special library hotspot will be offered to New Yorkers so that Internet access will be available in their homes.

"You can do your education work, research, apply for a job, any of the things that we take for granted. Up to five devices can use the hotspot at one time," said New York Public Library president Tony Marx.

Thanks to $2 million donated by Google and five other foundations. Just like checking out a book, the Wi-Fi hotspots are checked out for up to a year.

"It's not just the device, it's the monthly subscription. So we are going to cover that for 10,000 folks," said Marx.

It's estimated that 2.5 million New Yorkers do not have Internet access, so a hotspot can open up a whole new world, free.

People eligible for the library hotspots are those who are enrolled in adult education programs and don't have broadband at home. And students in an English as a second language class.

"I think it is very necessary for me, because I need to speak better English," said one student. "Improve my English, look for information, use the wireless," another student said.

Others find that it gives them access to educational materials offered by both the library system and other sites on the Internet.

Google, partnering with the city, was also instrumental in providing Wi-Fi to anyone in a Chelsea neighborhood a year ago.

The New York Public Library is the only system now offering the hotspot, which they hope to expand.

"Then we can partner with the folks in Washington and see if we can do this for everyone across the country," said Marx.

One hotspot at a time.

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