Clay County Libraries Begin Lending Internet Hotspots

Sep 8, 2020

As more students and parents study and work from home due to the pandemic, reliable internet access is more critical than ever.

That’s where a new Clay County libraries program called “SmartSpots” comes into play. Clay County residents can now check out portable hotspots that will allow nearby laptops, tablets and other devices to connect to the internet via the hotspot’s wi-fi network.

The program is meant to help bridge a gap. Seventeen percent of Clay County residents have limited or no access to the internet, either because of cost, or lack of availability in their area, according to an American Community Survey provided to WJCT News by the Clay County Public Library System.

“This puts a lot of the students at a disadvantage. They’re not able to finish their homework assignments, school projects, even digital textbooks can be an issue, said Jason Black, who is the library system’s assistant director of support services.

The new program is possible thanks to a 2020 innovation grant from the Northeast Florida Library Information Network.

The SmartSpots can be reserved online or in-person at any of the five library branches in the county for up to 14 days at a time.

The SmartSpots are capable of 4G speed, although in some parts of the county, users may only receive 3G.

“Clay County libraries purchased 25 SmartSpots through Kajeet Incorporated, who typically serves school districts and is a great partner for the library system,” said Library Services Director Karen Walker in an email to WJCT News.

The SmartSpots use Verizon cellphone towers, Black said.

A SmartSpot can be checked out a second time without returning it – if there isn’t a waiting list.

Black said there is no limit to how many times a person can check out a SmartSpot, although it will have to be temporarily returned after 28 days. If the demand exceeds the supply, a reserve list will be created for the SmartSpots.

Bill Bortzfield can be reached at bbortzfield@wjct.org or on Twitter at @BortzInJax.