This holiday season was recently made a little happier for residents of New York who don't have consistent Internet access. Google donated $1 million to the New York Public Library to fund a program that enables residents to borrow Wi-Fi hot spot devices for their homes like they would a book. The goal is to provide residents with 10,000 4G LTE mobile hot spots from all three of the city's library systems, as well as 500 Chromebooks provided by Google specifically for use by children and teens in afterschool programs run by the library.

The program was tested at the branches in Staten Island and the Bronx over the summer. With the money provided by Google and a $500,000 grant from a variety of nonprofit organizations, the hot spot devices can now be checked out of libraries in Manhattan, Brooklyn and Queens as well. The initial pilot program included 100 families who were asked to complete a survey about their experiences. According to the results, almost all of those who participated spent more than three hours online each day and nearly 100 percent wanted to renew the devices when they were done.

Patrons of the New York Public Library – which servers the Bronx, Manhattan and Staten Island – who are enrolled in one of the library's several programs will be allowed to borrow a device for six months at a time. Visitors to the Brooklyn Public Library will be lent devices for an entire year if they don't have access to broadband in their home and enroll in one of the library's programs for adult education. Members of the Queens Library's Adult Learning Program can check out a Wi-Fi device for one month with the possibility to renew three times.

Million of New Yorkers without Internet
According to a study conducted by the New York Public Library, more than half of the people who visit the library do so to use the Internet because they don't have access to it at home. In an interview with The Wall Street Journal, New York Public Library president Tony Marx said that approximately 2.5 million of the city's residents don't have Internet in their homes, usually because the cost is too high.

"This program is a great movement that includes a lot of helpful services, giving opportunity and access to those who didn't have it before," said Ebony Woodburn, education coordinator at the Mott Haven Library, in an interview with The Bronx Times. "It especially helps low-income residents where there are barriers of access."

Lack of Internet access a barrier to education
According to officials from the New York Public Library, patrons will often sit outside branch locations before they open and after the building is closed in order to sustain a Wi-Fi connection, as it usually extends outside the library's walls.  Those who participated in the pilot program said having access at home was not only more convenient, but it helped their children to do better in school. Many reported their children moving up several grade levels in subjects like reading and math as a result of being able to complete practice assignments and get homework help online.

Google CIO Ben Fried said that the company was interested in backing the project because the ability to quickly and easily access the Internet increases education and makes America more competitive in the global marketplace.

"Far too many New Yorkers do not have regular access to the Internet, and as a result find themselves excluded from a wealth of education, employment, and community resources," said Fried. "This innovative program to loan hotspots to low-income households is a simple, effective way to help those who need broadband and technology the most."