Montana State Library Hot Spot Lending Program

Hot Spot Lending Program LogoMontana State Library Hot Spot Lending Program

The COVID-19 pandemic has greatly exacerbated the digital divide in Montana, which is why the State Library is investing in a hot spot lending program to help Montana libraries help their patrons in need.  Every public and tribal college library in Montana is eligible to receive hot spots that they can use as they choose to help their communities.

Why hot spots?

Access to the Internet is a universal need but one that goes unmet for far too many Montanans due to lack of available or affordable Internet service.   We can do something about this problem by lending patrons Wi-Fi hot spot devices for use at home or anywhere else with cellular coverage.  Libraries may also use hot spots to serve groups of people by making them available in parks, at museums, in grocery stores, in senior centers, and in other partner organizations.

Example Circulation Policies/Templates for Hot Spot Programs

Evaluation Surveys for the Hot Spot Program

Please print out paper copies of the survey, and give them to patrons who participate in the program. You can then enter in patron evaluation data using the online survey link listed below. 

Marketing Materials for the Hot Spot Program

How to Catalog the Hot Spots

How to Set-Up and Use the Hot Spots (T-Mobile and Verizon)

How to Report Issues

T-Mobile Hot Spots:

For general assistance and troubleshooting, the T-Mobile libraries can contact T-Mobile Government Support at 1.844.361.1310. Anyone can call this number--libraries or patrons. If you have more serious issues that can't be resolved, please contact John Kilgour at jkilgour@mt.gov.

Verizon Hot Spots:

For any issues, please contact John Kilgour directly at jkilgour@mt.gov. Please include a description of the issue that you are having. 

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a hot spot and how does it work?

A hot spot is an area where a user can access the Internet via Wi-Fi. A mobile hot spot device enables users to connect to the Internet using a small box with a cell phone data plan that they can bring with them wherever they go. Like a data plan for a cell phone, as long as the device can connect to the cell tower, users can access the Internet.  The device itself emits a Wi-Fi signal that users can connect their personal devices to, like a laptop, tablet, or smart phone, in order to use the Internet. 

Is there a limit to how much data a patron can use?

The mobile devices come with a pre-paid one-year unlimited data plan. However, with Verizon, there is a possibility that data could be limited if a device exceeds 25GB/month for three consecutive months. This is the official policy: "In the event data usage exceeds 25GB each billing cycle for three (3) consecutive  billing cycles, data throughput speeds will automatically be reduced to 600kbps for data usage exceeding 25GB per billing cycle on a go-forward basis." Verizon has assured MSL that this almost never happens, and if it did, Verizon would first try to find out why there is such high data usage over a given period of time before imposing a data limitation. For the libraries that use Verizon, though, it is a good idea to be aware of this possibility. 

What does a patron need to use a hot spot?

A patron needs to be within range of a cellular tower and needs to have an Internet ready device such as a computer, laptop, tablet, or smart phone to use with the hot spot.

Who may borrow hot spots?

Libraries may choose to circulate hot spots to patrons or organizations according to local library policies. 

How do hot spots circulate?

The State Library recommends cataloging hot spots in libraries’ online catalogs so they may circulate like books or other circulating collections.

Hot spots for Montana Shared Catalog member libraries will come pre-cataloged with a 14-day lending period.  The hot spots are holdable and do not renew.

What happens after the one-year contract ends?

After the one-year contract ends, libraries may choose to continue the service or not.  The State Library will transfer the data plan contract to any libraries that wish to continue the service.

Who are the mobile service providers that support this program?

The State Library has partnered with T-Mobile and Verizon to support the program.  Libraries may receive hot spot devices from one or both providers depending on cellular coverage and whether a library chooses to circulate filtered devices.

What does the program cost?

Neither T-Mobile nor Verizon charge for the hot spot devices.  The State Library will pay for the total cost of the one-year data plan. 

T-Mobile’s monthly unlimited data plan cost is $29.75/month.

Verizon’s monthly unlimited data plan cost is $39.99/month.

Do the hot spot services filter internet access?

T-Mobile offers internet filtering that complies with the Children’s Internet Protection Act, as well as unfiltered devices.  Verizon’s hot spot service is unfiltered. If you request a filtered device, it will be T-mobile for sure. If you request an unfiltered device, it could be either Verizon or T-mobile, which is largely dependent upon the providers' levels of service in your area.

What do I do if a patron does not return a hot spot device or if a device is damaged?

Please notify the State Library if a device is lost or damaged.  We will ask the provider to turn off the service to that device and will issue a new device to the library.

What is expected of a library that participates in this program?

Make sure your community is aware of the program.  The State Library has prepared a template press release to announce the service.  Promote the service through your normal marketing channels and on social media.

The devices themselves tend to be very user friendly. However, training staff in the use of the devices tends to aid in a speedier checkout process for your patrons who may also need training.

Checking out the devices, at least to first-time users, may take up more staff time than lending out a book; however, walking patrons through how to turn the device on, recharging the battery, and gaining access to the device’s password are some of the important aspects of use that librarians should share with first-time patrons. It may be helpful to have a handout with this type of information available to patrons.

Because this is a pilot program, the State Library encourages libraries to ask their patrons to complete a simple survey that the State Library has prepared to understand how the devices are used.  Libraries may need to have paper copies of the survey for patrons who cannot or choose not to complete the survey online.