Brooklyn Public Library expands wireless internet offerings

A Brooklyn Public Library branch.
Photo by Kevin Duggan

Brooklyn’s book lender is helping the city get up to speed!

The Brooklyn Public Library announced Friday that it will expand WiFi offerings at 14 locations across the borough, as city officials seek to increase access to high speed internet in low income communities.

Approximately 29 percent of all New York City households lack broadband internet access, and two thirds of those households lack a cellular data plan, according to a 2019 report from the Comptroller’s Office. The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has brought the divide to the forefront, with countless New Yorkers sitting outside libraries on laptops while the branch buildings remain closed.

“During the first four months of the pandemic, nearly 185,000 patrons came to the stoops of closed branches to go online,” said Linda Johnson, president and CEO of Brooklyn Public Library.

The WiFi expansion, dubbed Bklyn Reach, will extend free outdoor wireless signals 300 feet in every direction outside of select branches, according to Johnson, and allow access to thousands more New Yorkers.

“That means more of our neighbors can attend school, apply for new jobs, order prescription medication, check out books, and more,” she said.

The lack of internet service primarily affects low-income neighborhoods, the comptroller’s report found. Children in homeless shelters have also been largely left out of virtual learning due to a lack of internet service in many shelters, according to the Daily News, which first reported that the city plans to install WiFi in all family homeless shelters next summer, after the end of the current school year.

The largest of the city’s tech-gaps is in Brooklyn, where 30 percent of borough residents and 40 percent of low income households do not have access to broadband.

The Bklyn Reach initiative at the library aims to connect residents who live near libraries with high speed internet, and to allow for more web-surfers to gather outside the library if need-be. 

“Access to the internet is a basic human right and an absolute necessity during the COVID-19 crisis, especially as some neighborhoods in Brooklyn are now going back on short-term lock down due to a surge in infection rates,” said Wes Moore, CEO of Robin Hood Foundation, a supporter of the new library program. “No one should have to crowd outside of a public library building in hopes of accessing WiFi to complete school assignments, make medical appointments, or search for a job.”

New antennas will be installed at the branches over the next couple of weeks to extend service.

The branches due to receive the upgrade are:

  • Arlington
  • Bedford
  • Borough Park
  • Brighton Beach
  • Cypress Hills
  • Jamaica Bay
  • Kings Bay
  • Macon
  • Midwood
  • New Lots
  • Saratoga
  • Walt Whitman
  • Washington Irving
  • Flatbush

Two branches — Red Hook and Flatbush — will also receive “Street Seats” from the city’s Department of Transportation, which will allow people to comfortably gather with their laptops in an open air setting.