Pilot program provides internet access in rural Oklahoma
STILLWATER — Oklahoma State University’s Division of Agricultural Sciences and Natural Resources and public libraries in four Oklahoma towns are joining forces to provide broadband access in rural areas.
“This pilot program is something that has never been done in rural Oklahoma and hopefully will allow residents and civic leaders to experience firsthand how broadband access can improve people’s quality of life and strengthen local communities,” said Brian Whitacre, OSU Cooperative Extension agricultural economist and the program’s principal investigator. DASNR, along with the Elgin Community Library, the Reiger Memorial Library in Haskell, the Thomas-Wilhite Memorial Library in Perkins and the Seminole Public Library, are asking residents to take advantage of the pilot and provide feedback.
“It will enable kids to be able to do their web-based homework, adults to do job applications or patrons to just cruise the internet,” said Leslie Durham of the Elgin library. The cost of a monthly internet connection exceeds what many can afford. A 2015 survey indicated that only 44 percent of Oklahoma households with incomes of less than $25,000 annually have a broadband connection. Ninety-one percent of Oklahoma households with incomes greater than $100,000 have broadband.
The pilot program “loans out the internet” by allowing people to check out mobile hot spot devices assigned to the libraries.
“These devices use cellular networks, the same as smartphones,” Whitacre said.
“They can be used inside a home; taken to restaurants, community centers and the like; and even go on a road trip. As long as the cellular network provider used by the hot spot has service in that area, the devices will provide broadband access.”
The pilot program will run through April and is supported by Mobile Beacon, an organization focused on providing broadband to nonprofit entities.
“We know many local residents use the library exclusively for their internet connectivity,” said Alison Bloyd of the Thomas-Wilhite Memorial Library.
“We hope the hot spot program will fill a digital gap for the households that currently lack access to online resources for job training, educational research and social connections.”
Holly Hughes of the Reiger Memorial Library said libraries have long been places for people to access information and technology they might not otherwise be able to obtain.
“This is certainly true for our community, which is why providing hot spots in the library is so vital,” she said. Whitacre has authored an OSU Cooperative Extension fact sheet, “Internet options for low-income households in Oklahoma,” with information about low-cost broadband options available to rural Oklahomans.
The fact sheet is at http://osufacts.okstate.edu.
For information about the mobile hot spots pilot program or how to enhance broadband access to rural Oklahoma, contact Whitacre at firstname.lastname@example.org or (405) 744-9825.
Donald Stotts is an Oklahoma State University agriculture communications specialist.