New pilot program is intended to help students without Internet access at home
FARMINGTON — The San Juan College library is implementing a pilot program to loan mobile hotspots to students without Internet access at their homes.
The library purchased 10 mobile hotspots and data plans for college students to use for a week at a time, allowing them to research and access library resources away from campus.
The pilot program was started during the summer and will continue as classes start Monday.
Director of Library Services Christopher Schipper said he sees students working in the student lounge outside the library and other common areas late at night to finish work they can't accomplish at home.
"When we're not open and the campus closes, many of our students are effectively cut off from those resources, and they are just not useful to them," Schipper said.
Schipper said he wanted to test the program to help those students and make sure they succeed in their classes.
"There are a number of things we take for granted — computers and Internet in our homes — that other people lack," Schippper said.
Statistics from the 2013 U.S. Census Bureau back up Schippper's concerns about computer and Internet access in the area.
A 2013 American Community Survey found that nearly 84 percent of U.S. households reported owning a computer and about 74 percent reported having Internet access.
Farmington had the lowest percentage of homes in the country with high-speed Internet access, at just more than 51 percent. Less than 72 percent of Farmington residents reported they own a computer. That tied Farmington with Brownsville-Harlingen, Texas, for the second lowest percentage of households with computers in the country.
San Juan College students who sign up to use mobile hotspots are asked to certify they don't have Internet access at home and are allowed one gigabyte of data to use for a week on the Verizon Wireless cellular network.
Schipper said library staff have been educating students about proper data use so students don't use up data streaming music or videos.
Students also receive an information sheet that explains how one gigabyte of data can stream only a specific number of online videos and how that data allotment can be used up quickly by streaming from online music services.
Schipper acknowledges the program is not perfect. Hotspots are not encouraged for streaming videos, which is sometimes required for coursework. Staff are encouraging students to watch those videos on campus.
Schipper hopes to expand the program in the future. He is in discussions with college staff about pursuing grants to fund more hotspots.