During the current pandemic, the public is asked to social-distance and even isolate themselves to slow down the transmission of COVID-19, but sometimes adults and children still need to connect to the internet -- and that's a problem for web users who depended on schools, libraries and other public access to get online.

The librarians at the Madison Public Library are working on a new program that would allow patrons to check out a limited number of Wi-Fi connections for a set period of days so the public can have free internet access at home.

The Madison City Commission on Monday approved the library's application for a $2,000 CARES Act Library technology grant that the South Dakota State Library and state Department of Education can provide.

In her proposal, Nancy Sabbe, city library director, noted that the library had initially installed wireless internet service in 2008, and users had immediately started accessing its wireless service from outside the building. Sabbe said that during 2019, patrons connected more to the library's wireless system with their own devices than patrons who used the library's public-access computers.

In addition, with the library's pandemic-related closure, patrons have accessed the wireless system from outside the building more than ever.

Sabbe submitted, "Patrons continue to take advantage of the service from their vehicles, but more of them are sitting on the library's front steps, in the gazebo behind the building and in other places where they can maintain an internet connection. They are there (at) all hours of the day and night which indicates a need for a different delivery system."

According to Sabbe, allowing patrons to take an internet connection home would assist children doing their homework and adults completing online study courses. The mobile wireless hotspots would also allow persons to communicate with their family and friends with user-friendly and secure devices.

The Library Board approved the grant request during its May 19 meeting.

Sabbe said the library staff is preparing to obtain four mobile internet hotspots that families can check out from the Madison Public Library for a specified number of days. She said the library staff is considering assigning seven days as the initial checkout period for the hotspots.

She noted that Verizon Wireless serves as the primary cell service provider in Madison and Lake County, "...making it our first choice of provider."

In collecting information about setting up the wireless hotspot systems, Sabbe said that monthly costs and other charges were:

-- $39.99 for each hotspot with unlimited data access.

-- $12 for a one-time charge for the set-up of device-control software through Cyberreef as part of a promotion. (Cyberreef will waive the normal monthly charge of $5 per month for each device through the end of 2020 with the $5 fee reinstated in January 2021.)

-- Nothing for a free Hotspot 8800 device.

A contract for the service would last one year.

However, Sabbe said that internet providers have waived some charges during the current coronavirus pandemic.

"At this point, there will not be a charge to us," she said.

According to Sabbe, Verizon has waived charges during the pandemic. She expects that the monthly charges will go back into effect at the start of 2021.

When charges are reinstated, the estimated costs for the first year of service for four hotspots amount to $1,920 for monthly fees, $48 for a Cyberreef setup and $120 for other Cyberreef charges. The annual expense total is estimated at $2,088.

Sabbe said the Madison Library Board would review the wireless hotspot project during its meeting next week.

The state library has about $64,000 in CARES Act money to provide to local programs.