Decatur Public Library patrons will have access to faster, stronger Wi-Fi connections both in the library and throughout the parking lot, and will not need a password to gain access following the installation of nine new Wi-Fi access points by the Alabama Supercomputer Authority.
The new access points are capable of handling 250 devices each. Rhonda Bolan, of the library's marketing and outreach department, said this means up to 2,250 devices could connect to the library's internet at the same time. She said there used to be a password protecting the Wi-Fi network, but that has been removed, so patrons simply need to connect to the guest Wi-Fi network to start using the internet.
Bolan said to be in range of the library's internet, patrons need to be either in the building or anywhere in the parking lot. Before the installation of these new access points, Wi-Fi in the building could be spotty, and coverage in the parking lot was limited. This upgrade provided the library with more expansive coverage, and since it's a newer system, a wider range of phones and tablets will be compatible with the new Wi-Fi.
Stephanie Cates, of the library's marketing and outreach department, said the improvements to the Wi-Fi will make it easier for students to access the internet if needed for virtual learning. She said when schools and many workplaces shut down due to COVID-19 in March, the library experienced a spike in usage of its electronic resources, including Wi-Fi.
“The Wi-Fi improvements make our Wi-Fi available more strongly throughout the parking lot, so 24 hours a day, seven days a week, even if the library building is not open you can still access the Wi-Fi,” Cates said.
Bolan and Cates both said the Wi-Fi system had needed an upgrade, but it would have caused a strain on the library's budget. Now, those funds can be used for other library needs because the ASA provided the access points.
Library director Sherry Sakovich said when the shelter-in-place order was in place in the spring, Decatur residents connected to the Wi-Fi from the library’s parking lot more than 5,800 times.
Alabama Supercomputer Authority legislative representative Cary Hill said the ASA has brought internet access into rural library and school parking lots over the past two years.
According to a library news release, the ASA has brought Wi-Fi to more than 100 libraries and strengthened the internet connection in 65 libraries in the past few months.
State Sen. Arthur Orr, R-Decatur, said the ASA is a "low-cost and efficiently run state entity" that has played a vital role in bringing internet access to students in more rural parts of Morgan County, including Eva, Somerville and Falkville.
ASA CEO Walter Overby called internet access “doubly important” due to the pandemic, and said 95% of schools statewide are connected to the ASA’s internet network.