Hot Spot

The Mansfield/ Richland County Public Library holds 49 hot spots which allow those in rural areas have internet access one week at a time.

EDITOR'S NOTE: This is the third in a three-part series about internet deserts in rural Richland County.

MANSFIELD — The Mansfield/ Richland County Public Library has found a way to deal with the everyday hindrances of minimal internet in rural parts of the county.

"I think any library struggles with this, but especially in our county, we have so many rural pockets, and we deal with the entire county," said Chris May, deputy director of the library. "We noticed that there are a number of barriers.

"Number one is cost. If you want quality internet, it costs more than a lot of people are willing to spend. It's tough to get internet in some of these rural areas. Even with the technology there today. Again it makes it more costly to get internet in those areas."

The library has found a short-term lifeline for those needing access to the internet: hot spots.

"This is something a few libraries have done, but we are the first in the state," he said. "It's been very, very successful for us."

May said the library hosts 49 hotspots which can be checked out to any person over the age of 18 with valid state identification and a Mansfield/ Richland County Public Library card. 

The library has received an unlimited plan for each hotspot on a discounted government rate from T-Mobile, May said.

"What we've found is people want internet access for everything from playing games to Facebook, social media all the way to job searching. A lot of the schools will send kids home with Google Chromebooks. And they need to do their research online, and they don't have access to do so. We wanted to help bridge that gap a little bit."

Lucas High School principal Eric Teague said he and students at his school struggle to use the internet — at school and in their home.

"I had a conversation last week with a family about this," he said. "Even at school we have difficulty loading some web pages, so I can see how using dial-up and other things (at home) could be difficult."

CenturyLink reports that by 2020 it will have built high-speed internet lines to rural areas in the county, but could not offer an estimated time of arrival.

Teague said because of the internet holdups, the Lucas School District has suffered in terms of keeping up with the world's education technology and has spent a lot of money in the process.

"At the moment, we are not 100 percent set on using the internet for homework and school work, but I could see in the future as the world moves on, so do we," Teague said.

In 2015, the State Testing moved toward being online only. This caused Teague headaches, too.

"We had to figure out how to get a large group of students in one area and take a test at the same time. That proved difficult. It was a huge issue," he said. "We decided to buy a Chromebook for each student and had to have new fiber lines put in. We also had to make new wireless connection points because of the new computers.

"That was all local taxpayer money. It was not funded by the state."

Since January of 2016, 1,251 library hotspot checkouts have provided families with help. Since January of this year, 302 library members have checked out a hot spot. The library has a standard waiting list of 30 to 50 people ready to check out the hotspots for one week at a time.

"We've had some oddities in the rural areas, where it works in a window, but it won't work on a table, but overall it's been a hit," May said. "We've had a lot of repeat customers too. They'll check one out and they'll put one on hold as soon as they come back."

The library's deputy director said most of the members' usage is social media and taking them on vacation. Others want to test the hotspots before paying for one full-time.

"Internet is a problem in Lucas," Teague said. "But cell phone service may be a bigger problem."

Perhaps a hot spot could help.

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Staff Reporter

Noah Jones is host to The Open Mic Podcast -- available on Apple Podcasts! He is the crime, education and music reporter for Richland Source. He is a native of St. Louis, Missouri and a giant Cardinals fan.