A pilot project that lets low-income Torontonians bring the internet home with them has proven so successful that library officials are scaling up their efforts this summer.
The Toronto Public Library partnered with Google Canada last summer to lend out some 200 Wi-Fi hotspots for six months at a time. Now, after a survey of those who borrowed the devices found 97 per cent of people were happy with the program, library officials are hoping to get 500 into circulation by the end of the summer.
"We could expand it tomorrow and we'd still need more," Coun. Sarah Doucette, who sits on the library board, told CBC Toronto.
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The survey found 68 per cent of those who used the program reported that their household income was less than $30,000 and nearly eight in 10 said internet service was too expensive for them to buy themselves.
Library officials say most people used the internet the same way as everyone else, but there were some key highlights.
The survey found 76 per cent of borrowers said they used it to advance their education, while 36 per cent said it helped with employment.
That's good news, Doucette said, as the city is hoping the pilot will help reduce poverty.
Google, Rogers supporting pilot project
Currently, the devices are only available at six library branches, all located in priority neighbourhoods. Pam Ryan, the library's director of service development and innovation, said the library will continue its efforts to get the devices to those who need it most, and that community librarians and bookmobiles may also start handing them out this year.
'... we need some bigger government policy solutions that let us see more widespead internet access to low-income households.' - Pam Ryan, Toronto Public Library
Having the devices at every branch — New York City's library system, for example, has some 10,000 available — is a nice thought, Ryan said, but it would require some major donations.
"It is a high expense program," she said.
"So it is just a stop-gap measure and we need some bigger government policy solutions that let us see more widespread internet access to low-income households."
Google has now contributed $250,000 to the pilot project, while Rogers is now providing the devices for free as well as offering two years of service, according to a report given to the library's board.
The library is still looking for more third-party support as the pilot project continues. The report notes the library is also interested in loaning out other devices, like laptop computers or tablets, in the future.