Bexar County Judge Nelson Wolff announced Friday that digital library BiblioTech will begin allowing patrons to check out Wi-Fi hotspot devices this summer.
The new initiative is a partnership with Sprint and Manage Mobility, a telecommunications management firm, and is meant to help bridge the digital divide in Bexar County, Wolff told the crowd of more than 300 people at his State of the County address, hosted by the North San Antonio Chamber of Commerce.
Users of the nation’s first all-digital public library can already access the internet; check out e-books, audio books, movies, and graphic novels; and access music, language learning software, and other educational resources for free at one of its three branches around San Antonio. They also can borrow touchscreen reading tablets such as Nooks and Kindles.
Many people in the South, East, and West sides of San Antonio don’t have access to the internet in their homes, Wolff said. Just as they are able to check out reading tablets, BiblioTech users will be able to borrow small, portable hotspot devices, which transmit a Wi-Fi signal that phones or other Wi-Fi enabled gadgets can connect to.
It will “give [residents] the opportunity to take it home and connect to the internet, [with] whatever device they may be using,” he said.
The program, which will kick off this summer, will open the door for people to access job training and other learning tools, and students to do online homework.
BiblioTech, established in Bexar County in 2013, has been recognized nationally for its efforts to create community in its branches, promote literacy, and connect more people to technology. The program was most recently recognized by the Ash Center for Innovation at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government as one of the “Top 25 Programs in American Government.”
BiblioTech is but one of several initiatives that have helped bolster San Antonio’s booming tech scene and boosted the local economy, Wolff said. He pointed to companies such as Hulu and TJX Companies that are opening facilities in San Antonio and bringing thousands of jobs to the city. Established institutions like Brooks City Base, Port San Antonio, and University Hospital also are employing thousands of county residents and serve as big economic generators, he said.
San Antonio’s unemployment rate is lower than the state and national averages, Wolff said, and the county is on track to add 30,000 jobs in various industries in 2017.
In his address, the judge discussed implementing a commuter rail line from downtown to The Rim, the shopping and office complex on Interstate 10 just north of Loop 1604, on a Union Pacific line that only is used once about every two weeks. He sees it as a “cost-effective thing to do” and said the County will continue talks with Union Pacific to explore options.
The judge also said he thinks San Antonio has a good chance to be one of four U.S. cities chosen for a Major League Soccer expansion franchise. If San Antonio is chosen, voters would have to approve funds to expanding the seating capacity of Toyota Stadium using hotel-motel tax funds. There would be no tax increase, he said.
The County and the City have been in talks with MLS officials and are working with Spurs Sports & Entertainment, which operates the minor-league San Antonio FC, to pursue the opportunity, Wolff said.
San Antonio FC, which is in the middle of its season, brings about 7,000-8,000 people to Toyota Stadium each game, Wolff said.
“There’s a big audience for soccer,” he said, “and we think we’re in the right place to be.”