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The Denver Public Library Admits We Have an Internet Problem

On August 15, 2016, the Denver Public Library announced that they were starting a “pilot program to bring free, unlimited high-speed internet access to low-income families through the use of WiFi hotspots that can be checked out like a library book”. These portable hotspots will allow Denver residents to bring a little bit of wireless Internet into their home so that they can get online with any devices they might have.

For those of you who haven’t used a mobile hotspot before, it is essentially the same as tethering to your phone. The Internet is generally not fast enough to stream videos or view large image files. Price wise, it’s a lot like paying for data on your cell phone - which can get expensive. Many of us are aware of how much data we use on our cell phones (because of speed and price limitations) but at home, we party like it’s 1999 and download as much as we want without thinking about it. You paid for that Internet and you’re going to use it, there are rarely data caps and overages on your home bill.

We applaud the library for being aware of the Internet problem in our City and managing to get the funding together to do something about it. This is a great first step. It helps show us where the need is and what the demand looks like. But this is not a long-term solution. These hotspots have very real limitations and they are not cost effective. If you like reading websites without images or only sending emails, then this will work for you. However, anyone who needs to do something bandwidth intensive is in trouble - like someone who has to watch a video for a class or job training, or residents trying to keep up with the news.

The pilot program started with 50 devices. Once you get one, you’ll be able to keep it for 3 weeks. 3 weeks. For 3 weeks you’ll get to experience what it is like to have Internet in your home. And then what? You get back on the waiting list to do it again. According to one lady who commented on the article on February 14, 2017 - 6 months after the program launched - the waiting list exceeded 600 people. That means you’ll need to wait at least 12 weeks to get a hotspot or at most 11 years! I checked again on September 4, 2018, and there are currently 0 of 39 hotspots available with 347 people on the list. That’s down 11 units from launch, with a waiting list that is a little bit shorter. What accounts for this downturn? Hopefully, it is because those on the list have gotten better paying jobs and they can now afford Internet at home, or the Internet offerings in their area have become cheaper. I’d venture to bet, however, that a part of it has to do with a wane in excitement as people have realized that 3 weeks of slow Internet then 12+ weeks without is not much better than no Internet at all.

We’re excited to see the library take on this challenge, it’s no easy one. While the immediate stopgap solution leaves a lot to be desired, it is a step in the right direction and the beginning of a long journey for us all.