Huge impact of free public internet access in North Yorkshire | News

A roll-out of free internet access across North Yorkshire town centers has had a huge impact on communities with statistics now showing almost 1.5m users have already hooked up to take advantage of the service.

We first introduced free internet access at libraries, allowing users to book time slots at terminals in the branches, with advisers available to offer help for those who needed it.

A second tier has been introduced more recently, offering public access internet in town centres, allowing users with their own devices to connect to the internet for free.

Statistics show the services have been used more than a million times, highlighting the level of demand and the benefits the service has brought.

There are now 20 towns with open-access internet and latest figures show many people take advantage of that, with a daily average in early September running at 3,065 users in Harrogate, 924 in Whitby, 788 in Knaresborough and 647 in Catterick.

Executive member for digital connectivity, Cllr Greg White, said: “We have many rural communities and it has long been a priority for us to ensure everyone has access to the internet if they need it.

“The Covid-19 pandemic put an extra focus on just how important the internet is today and we are delighted with the success we’ve had in opening up the service to the public.

“Our feedback shows that both residents and visitors use the service and that is exactly what we hoped for.

“Technology never stands still and we are always looking for new opportunities to improve on what we can offer.”

Visitor John Mitchell found the service useful while on holiday and said: “The service was a completely unexpected surprise and was very welcome during my holiday in Scarborough.

“The mobile data signal for my phone network is particularly poor in Scarborough so I was struggling to share pictures and interact with social media.

“On holiday small things can make a big difference,” he said.

Residents who need help in accessing the Internet are being encouraged to visit their local library during Get Online Week (which runs to 23 October).

Throughout the week staff and volunteers will be introducing visitors to e-books, online local history and reference resources. This is a great time for anyone who is new to getting online to book a free session with an IT buddy for some one-to-one support.

Eduroam, an online roaming service for students, staff and researchers, is available on all library computers. It has been rolled out as part of the county council’s introduction of free public Wi-Fi across market towns.

See details of the events on offer.

Towns with free access are: Boroughbridge, Catterick, Easingwold, Harrogate, Knaresborough, Leyburn, Malton, Northallerton, Pickering, Richmond, Ripon, Scarborough, Selby, Settle, Sherburn-in-Elmet, Skipton, Stokesley, Tadcaster, Thirsk, Whitby.

Free internet access can also be beneficial to people struggling to afford broadband during the cost of living crisis. Read more details on other financial support and advice on offers in North Yorkshire.

Public access internet was ‘vital’ support for fledgling business

Access to the internet is important to virtually everyone in 2022, but North Yorkshire’s free service – offered through libraries years before online activity was such a dominant function in life – helped Katie Becker launch a successful business.

In 2006, she launched her website-based Japan Crafts business after returning from a trip to the country with a suitcase of origami paper.

At the time she was living near Bedale, but a change of address meant she had no internet access at home. But as a regular visitor to the town’s library with her then toddler daughter, she knew she could book regular slots.

Although running the business was a full-time job, the hour a day she spent on a public access computer allowed her to manage email traffic and respond to customers before preparing orders.

It was a vital tool to allow the business to operate and grow, to the point where she now also has an actual shop in Birmingham.

Katie Becker said: “With website orders to send and little access to the internet during the day, I used to drop my daughter off at school then drive to Bedale library for my free hour of internet each day.

“It took most of that time to download and write all my orders out by hand, then reply to emails. I would then pack and send my orders.

“Without that vital free hour of internet, I would have been unable to develop the online side of my business, which has proved crucial, especially recently with the pandemic.

“The library staff were always very helpful at Bedale and would take time to answer questions. They would always make a fuss of my daughter when we came for story time or to choose/return books, too.”

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