BOSTON - Tuesday, August 25, 2020 - Mayor Martin J. Walsh and the Boston Public Library (BPL) today announced two new initiatives designed to help bridge the digital equity gap in the City of Boston. The Public Computer Access program will allow residents to sign up for a two-hour appointment to use library computers in a socially distanced space within the Central Library in Copley Square. The Outdoor Wi-Fi Program provides 24-hour outdoor internet access at nine BPL branch locations across the city, allowing users to socially distance while accessing the Internet for free.
"Boston's libraries play a vital role in our communities by providing digital access to all. We're increasing the availability of these critical resources through our Public Computer Access program at the Central Library and Outdoor Wi-Fi programs at BPL branches across Boston," said Mayor Walsh. "Digital access at the BPL helps Boston residents find jobs, attend classes, download e-books, or just check email and read the news. By providing computer and Wi-Fi access, we will provide a digital lifeline to many Bostonians, helping our libraries fulfill their mission to provide educational and cultural resources, free to all."
The Public Computer Access and Outdoor Wi-Fi programs will provide residents with reliable computer and Internet access for the foreseeable future, helping residents cope with the coronavirus pandemic and contributing to the City's ongoing efforts to expand digital equity.
Teen and adult patrons can begin booking Public Computer Access appointments at the Central Library in Copley Square on the BPL website at apps.bpl.org/computers or by phone at (617) 536-5400. Appointments are available Monday - Thursday during one of the following slots: 10am - 12pm, 1 - 3pm, or 4 - 6pm. Six computers are available for advance registration and four computers will be reserved for walk-in. Total space is limited to 10 people and patrons are limited to one reservation per day. To accommodate the program, the BPL To Go hours at the Central Library will expand to 10am - 6pm Monday - Thursday. It will also be open 10am - 4pm Friday & Saturday for regular BPL To Go service.
Upon arrival at the Central Library, patrons can enter using the McKim Building entrance where security will take visitors' temperatures using a touchless thermometer, and staff will show them to their computer. The Public Computer Access program will be the first initiative since the start of COVID-19 that allows patrons to use facilities inside the library building. To ensure visitor and staff safety, patrons are required to maintain physical distance and wear masks at all times, and the computer room will be fully sanitized between each two-hour appointment slot.
The Outdoor Wi-Fi Program will create outdoor access points at nine BPL branch locations: Mattapan, Codman Square, Parker Hill, Hyde Park, Grove Hall, Egleston Square, East Boston, Honan-Allston, and South End. These locations were chosen according to data reflecting at-home broadband adoption, household income, and availability of nearby outdoor seating. Outdoor areas such as parks and parking lots near the BPL locations will be ready for public use starting today. To access the Internet, users will need to bring their own device, such as a laptop, tablet, or smartphone, and must maintain physical distancing. There is currently no time limit to an individual's Internet use and access will be available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
"Today's public libraries are critical resources for closing the digital equity gap, and are more important than ever as we respond to and recover from the impacts of COVID-19. Closing this gap requires access to devices, connectivity, and skills." said BPL President David Leonard. "Public computer access and extended outdoor Wi-Fi at branches are more ways to increase public access and remove barriers to opportunity. Inside or out, our buildings are there for the local community."
In Boston and across the United States, many families lack reliable Internet access, creating a digital divide that reinforces inequality. According to a recent Pew Study, more than 40 percent of low-income Americans making less than $30,000 lack access to broadband Internet. Public computer access and outdoor Wi-Fi at Boston's public library branches will help fill these critical gaps more reliably for residents across the city.
The City of Boston is committed to digital access and skill-building for all residents. Mayor Walsh has increased the City's annual investment in digital equity to over $1 million annually through a three-pronged approach to bridging the city's gap in digital access and literacy by: securing low-cost, landline internet access for school age homes, isolated seniors, and immigrants seeking ESOL classes; providing devices to residents in their homes; and offering digital literacy programs to help residents apply for jobs, complete homework and access critical services online.
To help meet these digital inequities, the City has invested over $15 million in additional resources that have strengthened the City's internet network and connectivity, distributed devices to residents and families in need, and supported digital training and skills development through a network of dedicated non profits.
The Digital Equity Fund explores ways to build individual and community capacity to use the internet, digital skills, and digital tools to pursue professional, educational, and civic endeavors; engage with the internet safely and securely; develop needs-responsive, community-driven digital skills building opportunities, and increase broadband adoption among Bostonians who do not subscribe to this service in the home. In fiscal year 2019, the City increased the grantmaking power of the Digital Equity Fund from $35,000 to $100,000.
Mayor Walsh has been committed to bringing more equity and choice to residents throughout Boston, from launching Boston's first-ever Digital Equity Fund; to bringing WiFi hotspots to the Boston Public Library's lending program; to Boston's Wicked Free WiFi program; to working to protect Net Neutrality rules that ensure a fair and open internet.
In addition, in November 2018, Mayor Walsh and Verizon announced a new partnership that will accelerate Boston's plan to be one of the most technologically advanced cities in the nation, giving residents more choice. Building on the partnership formed in 2016, more than half the homes in Boston now have access to this all-fiber network, and Fios service is available in Dorchester, Hyde Park, Jamaica Plain, Mattapan, Roslindale, Roxbury, South Boston and West Roxbury. The new amendments enable Fios TV expansion as the fiber network is built in South Boston, South End, Allston, Brighton, Back Bay, Charlestown, East Boston, Fenway and Downtown.
The City of Boston, alongside the Boston Resiliency Fund, invested $5 million to purchase and deliver 32,000 Chromebooks to Boston Public Schools students; 5,000 hotspots to families without connectivity; 2,000 tablets to individuals in recovery, homeless in field hospitals, isolated elders, and immigrant families.
The City of Boston's Broadband and Digital Equity efforts improve access to affordable and reliable high speed internet for households and businesses, expand the availability of high speed internet in public places, and facilitate ease of access to up-to-date digital tools. Outdoor Wi-Fi is a collaboration between the Boston Public Library, the Boston Public Library Fund, the City of Boston's Department of Innovation and Technology, and the Mayor's Office of New Urban Mechanics (MONUM.)
ABOUT BOSTON PUBLIC LIBRARY
Established in 1848, the Boston Public Library is a pioneer of public library service in America. It was the first large free municipal library in the United States; the first public library to lend books; the first to have a branch library; and the first to have a children's room. The Boston Public Library of today features the Central Library in Copley Square and twenty-five neighborhood branches, serving nearly 4 million visitors per year and millions more online. All of its programs and exhibitions are free to all and open to the public. The Boston Public Library is also a department of the City of Boston, under the leadership of Mayor Martin J. Walsh. To learn more, visit bpl.org.
ABOUT THE DEPARTMENT OF INNOVATION AND TECHNOLOGY
The Department of Innovation and Technology (DoIT) works to engage and empower residents with up-to-date technology. The Department of Innovation & Technology (DoIT) oversees and guides all technology-related activities associated with the delivery of products and services managed by every City department. The department provides a strategic framework and direction for leveraging technology to create business value. DoIT centralizes common shared services while offering dedicated, customer-facing teams for each service group to improve service delivery.
ABOUT MAYOR'S OFFICE OF NEW URBAN MECHANICS
The Mayor's Office of New Urban Mechanics serves as the City's innovation incubator, building partnerships between internal agencies and outside entrepreneurs to pilot projects that address resident needs. From civic engagement prototypes to Accessory Dwelling Units, their approach to innovation is human-centered, nimble and responsive to the changing needs of our growing City.