HOUSTON – A lot of us take having constant access to the internet for granted. However, for many people, instant access to the internet is a luxury they cannot afford. To help make the internet accessible to more people, a donation fueled program was started by the Houston Public Library system. That program lets people checkout free WiFi hotspots for up to three weeks at a time.
The library was hoping to keep expanding the program, but when Channel 2 Investigates checked in on the effort, we discovered hundreds of these devices have vanished. The Library system also has trouble collecting fees from those who don’t return the devices or return the devices late.
Providing access to technology is one of the core missions of the library. The hotspot program was launched because not everyone can make it to a library branch to log on to a computer.
“There’s still that unfilled need for those people who need something at their home,” said Rick Peralez, assistant director and chief technology officer for the Houston Public Library System. “You still have a lot of people in the city who don’t have access to the internet.”
“I don’t have WiFi or internet at home,” said Acres Home resident, Monique Young. “To me, it’s very valuable. Sending resumes, apply for jobs. My kids use it for school.”
This is why Young bristles when she hears hundreds of free hotspots vanished because users did not return the devices to their local library branch.
“We need to do better than this. They’re giving it to you for free, bring it back,” said Young.
Peralez said the library is starting to see a better return rate of hotspots since they’ve started calling and emailing people to remind them to return the devices.
“We find that a lot of people will just appreciate that and say, ‘oh yeah, I do have it, let me get it turned in,’” Peralez said. “Our goal is not to be punitive, we just want the material back. so we can serve the next customer.”
Peralez said each hotspot costs $80. If a device is not returned service is immediately cut-off and the person is barred from using any library services until the hotspot is returned or they pay the bill for the device.
These problems are helping fuel lengthy wait times for the devices.
“Come on you know that day is due, bring it back. Have common courtesy so we can just help others and keep everything going,” Young said.
Peralez said the library wants to keep expanding the program but admits a lot of that has to do with people returning the devices.