A broadband connection isn’t much good if people have no way to use it—and recognizing that, a portion of broadband stimulus funding went toward grants for public computing centers. For the most part this funding, which was administered by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, went toward desktop computers in libraries and other public facilities.
An exception was an $8.8 million grant that went to the State Library of Louisiana, part of which is being used to provide laptops that can be checked out of public libraries in Vernon Parish and which are pre-configured for use at any Wi-Fi hotspot.
Some people might ask what the advantage is of using a laptop at a Wi-Fi hotspot versus using an Internet-connected computer at a library. One consideration is that libraries are only open during certain hours, whereas Wi-Fi hotspots often are located in coffee shops and other locations that open earlier and stay open later than libraries. The Louisiana program actually lets adults with a valid Vernon Parish library card check out a laptop for three days, giving users the ability to use the laptops for considerably longer than virtually any library allows.
A story in local media outlet LeesvilleDailyLeader quotes Louisiana Lieutenant Governor Jay Dardenne: “This new laptop program is designed to give more citizens access to technology that can better their future and Louisiana’s future. Many Louisianans do not have access to the Internet at home.”
Each library in Vernon Parish is receiving 10 laptops. The LeesvilleDailyLeader story also notes that the laptops have GPS software that will allow the State Library to recover them in the event of loss or theft. But I do have to question how well GPS will ultimately prove at retrieving past-due computers.
If GPS shows that a laptop is in someone’s house, how will the library actually get it back? It seems like there could be a lot of time consumed in obtaining search warrants and getting authorities to gain admittance to wayward borrowers’ homes.
Nevertheless the idea behind the program seems to be one worth testing—and it will be interesting to see how its results compare with those of other programs that are using different approaches to address the issue of people who can’t afford computers. Comcast, for example, has agreed to make discounted computers and discounted Internet access available to low-income residents in areas where the company offers cable modem service.