GRAND HAVEN, MI — Ottawa County has acquired 100 more mobile hotspots for residents to connect to the internet.
The 100 new hotspots were distributed to Ottawa County’s public libraries in October after the county received about $81,000 in grant funding for the program.
Residents can check out the hotspots for free at any of the nine Ottawa County libraries. The hotspots are available for a one-week checkout, according to the Loutit District Library.
“These devices will make it possible for users to expand their educational opportunities, complete online schoolwork, search and apply for jobs — the benefits are endless,” said Loutit District Library Director John Martin. “A large section of Loutit’s service area has no high-speed access — so supporting this initiative is imperative.”
Each day overdue is a $1 fine. After three days overdue, the hotspot is shut off.
Hotspots provide wireless internet connections to devices like tablets, smartphones, laptops and more. An internet connection in the home is not needed to use them.
According to Ottawa County, a previous survey has found that about 22 percent of county homes don’t have a fixed broadband connection, with 35 percent of those saying it’s not affordable.
Before the grant funding, only Herrick District Library, Howard Miller Library and Coopersville District Library offered hotspots for checkout. The libraries have had the program in place for several years and had about a dozen hotspots altogether.
Ottawa County officials say the three libraries have had continuous waiting lists for the hotspots as long as 30 people, showing the need for a program expansion.
The grant funds will cover the first two years of the program. The third year cost of $38,400 will be funded by participating libraries.
If successful, each library has committed to funding the program for years to come.
Paul Sachs, director of the Ottawa County Planning and Performance Improvement Department, said the Mobile Hotspot Device Lending Initiative fits into the county’s larger goal of expanding broadband internet to residents who can’t afford or access it.
“We are attempting to enhance quality of life elements for residents, business owners,” Sachs said. “Access to high speed internet, it’s the next utility that is a necessity for all residents, urban and rural.”
The Ottawa County Planning and Performance Improvement Department will collect survey data from library patrons who borrow the hotspots to help identify under-served areas in the county.