Earlier this year, Google and the Seattle Public Library teamed up to provide free mobile WiFi hotspots to anyone with a library card. The system has been popular, with more than 1,000 people waiting for a device at times, but Google’s funding only lasts a year.
However, the Seattle City Council’s newly adopted adopted a budget provides ongoing funding for an expanded hotspot program, increasing the number of hotspots to 775 units.
Google and the Seattle Public Library started the WiFi hotspot program in part to provide internet to the 15 percent of seattle residents who don’t have access to the internet at home. The program uses the Verizon Jetpack MiFi 6620L to connect to Verizon’s 4G network, providing unlimited data for three-week checkout periods.
Right now, there are 325 units in circulation. Google’s original $225,000 grant covered about 125 units along with some other digital literacy training session, but early success led the company to expand the grant with $80,000 more for 200 new devices.
The new budget item, which was adopted on Nov. 23, takes over the funding of the existing hotspots and Councilmember Jean Godden also found the funding for an additional 450 devices, which should bring wait times for the device down.
The majority of the funding comes from the Cable Franchise Fee, which is a paid by cable companies, “which is kind of nice and circular,” Godden said. “It also means that you’re not competing with things such as the Human Services budget or something of that sort. This comes directly from a franchise fee.”
The library leases each hotspot for $39.99 per month. The budget sets aside $340,000 for the program, which accounts for added support costs in addition to the monthly leasing cost.
At the same meeting, the Seattle City Council also found funding for three computer programming internship positions for people who have gone through accelerated training programs but didn’t get a four-year degree in computer science.
The internships, which will be created next year, are part of the city’s effort to reduce barriers for underrepresented communities to break into the tech scene. Interns will work in the city’s Information Technology Department.