February 20, 2018

The Advocate's Toolbox

New York Libraries To Offer Wi-Fi Hotspots to Needy Students


New York City Schools chancellor Carmen Fariña has announced a partnership between Google, Sprint, and the city’s three library systems—the Brooklyn Public Library, New York Public Library (NYPL), and Queens Library—to make free Wi-Fi hotspots available for year-long rental to public school families.

“We’re committed to equity and excellence for all New York City students, and this initiative will help create expanded opportunities for students to complete homework, research, and thrive outside of school,” said Fariña in a statement. “This initiative will be available for all students and families, and we encourage them to take advantage of this resource.”

The program, a one-year pilot, will launch in 47 library branches across the city, all in high-need neighborhoods with low connectivity rates. The branches are also all located near New York City Community Schools, which are neighborhood hubs offering academic instruction and social services.

Photo: Jonathan Blanc (blancimages.com)

Clockwise from left: NYPL president Tony Marx, New York City Schools chancellor Carmen Fariña, Google chief information officer Ben Fried (at table), and Brooklyn Public Library president Linda Johnson, with students at PS 67 in Brooklyn. Photo: Jonathan Blanc (blancimages.com)

“More than 800,000 households in New York don’t have a broadband connection to the Internet, posing a barrier to opportunity for school-aged children who are already at risk of being left behind,” said Queens Library president and CEO Dennis M. Walcott.

To qualify to borrow one of the 5,000 hotspots, applicants must be at least 18 years old, have a fine-free library card, attend an event at one of the participating branches, and report that they have no Internet at home and that they have a child attending a New York public school. The hotspots will be distributed on a first-come, first-served basis, and the devices must be returned at the end of the 12-month period. Those wanting more information should either check one of the three library system websites or visit their local library branch.

The initiative is the second round of the Library HotSpot program, started by the NYPL (which serves the Bronx, Manhattan, and Staten Island) in 2014. That pilot also included a Google donation of Chromebooks. But the current pilot program is focused only on providing Wi-Fi service. It’s not so much the cost of devices that’s a barrier to home Internet access as it is the expense of the monthly service, Farina noted at a September 29, 2016, press conference. Also, many of the kids do have smartphones, with which they can access the Internet once they have Wi-Fi at home.

Photo: Jonathan Blanc (blancimages.com)

Ben Fried, Google’s chief information officer, with a PS 67 student. Photo: Jonathan Blanc (blancimages.com)

Google donated $1 million to the latest program. Sprint is donating the service to power the hotspots as part of the White House’s ConnectED Initiative. The company estimates that the 5,000 lines that they are providing equate to $9.6 million. (The hotspots were paid for with grant money NYPL received for this purpose during the earlier round of the program.)

“In New York City in the 21st century, our kids, our future, must have access to the Internet at home,” said NYPL president Tony Marx. “We regularly see children doing their homework outside of our branches before we open and after we close so that they can access the Wi-Fi leaking from our walls.”

Charlotte-Mecklenburg Library in Charlotte, NC, recently started a similar program.




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Christina Vercelletto About Christina Vercelletto

Christina Vercelletto is School Library Journal’s former news editor. An award-winning writer and editor, Vercelletto has held staff positions at Babytalk, Parenting, Scholastic Parent & Child, and NYMetroParents.com.

Facts Matter: Information Literacy for the Real World
Libraries and news organizations are joining forces in a variety of ways to promote news literacy, create innovative community programming, and help patrons/students identify misinformation. This online course will teach you how to partner with local news organizations to promote news literacy through a range of programs—including a citizen journalism hub at your library.


  1. Great article! More communities like this and in Charlotte should get more involved!

  2. I think this is very important, all young adults that are looking to enhance their education should have access to the internet. There are many other fantastic offline alternatives of course, but the internet just makes it more easily accessible.