South Bronx libraries help residents log on

The Mott Haven, Hunts Point and Melrose branch libraries are participating in a project designed to provide South Bronx residents free internet access.

Library patron Richard Campbell
Library patron Richard Campbell inspects his new HotSpot device at the Mott Haven Branch on April 23.

Through city program, residents without cable service can access the net

Three South Bronx library branches are among 11 citywide that will be lending free hotspot devices to low-income residents to try and build bridges over the digital divide.

City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito handed out new devices to patrons at the Mott Haven Branch Library on April 23, while helping launch the second phase of Library Hotspot, a city program to ensure even those struggling to pay their cable bills aren’t excluded from the advantages of the internet. During the first phase, library officials say they lent out 2,600 of the 10,000 devices the program’s sponsors have made available.

Branch libraries in Mott Haven, Melrose and Hunts Point, will participate in the program, Mark-Viverito said, because access to the internet is far too basic a need to deprive people in low-income communities from using it.

“Broadband service should no longer be a luxury,” she said.

Charles Fountain, 49, a resident of Mitchel Houses, was one of the first local residents to receive a new device.

“This will come in handy,” said Fountain, who has a teenage daughter in college who needs regular internet access to complete her assignments.

Fountain is familiar with the advantages of having regular access to the internet, he said, but it has been five years since his home was connected to the web.

“I can’t afford cable anymore,” he said.

Richard Campbell, 44, a resident of Willis Avenue, said he has been unemployed for the last two years. As a result, he too has been unable to pay the cable bill.

“A lot of time you don’t know what’s going on in the world,” he said, adding that getting online will be to help him seek and apply for jobs.

Sharon Salisbury of Dominican Sisters, a Mott Haven social service organization located a block south of the library, said access to the internet for the neighborhood’s young people while they are out of school will help them stay out of trouble.

“This will keep them engaged over the summer months when they don’t have any other means to do so,” said Salsbury.

After receiving their devices, Campbell, Fountain and about a dozen other library patrons headed to a workshop in the library to learn how to use their new gadgets.

Carmen Valentin, director of family and community engagement at East Side Settlement House around the corner from the library, said it is commonplace for local residents she works with to own smartphones and computers, but be unable to use them because they don’t have the means to pay the cable bill.

“Our families have the technology but they don’t have internet access,” she said. “This allows them to have access.”

To be eligible to receive the hotspot boxes, users must be at least 18 years-old and have no pending fines on their library cards. The devices have been made available to the public with a $1 million donation from Google and a $500,000 grant from the Knight News Challenge.