An old bookmobile now has new life bringing internet access to D.C. residents.
Last week, Mayor Muriel Bowser officially relaunched the newly renovated and redesigned Mobile Tech Lab (MTL).
The MTL has been around since 2010 but the redesign of the former bookmobile has put the program in a position to do even more good.
“Even though everyone who sat on the [original] bus loved the idea of it, the bus itself had limitations,” explained Delano Squires, the director of the Connect.DC Digital Inclusion Initiative, which runs the MTL. “It didn’t necessarily look like a space that was designed for what it was doing. But now it looks like an actual classroom.”
The new MTL is equipped for 10 people comfortably, 15 people if needed. It has its own secure WiFi connection, as well as 11 iPads, 11 PCs and a 60-inch TV screen equipped with Apple TV. The renovations came at a price tag of $150,000.
The lab’s first round of programming will start in late November in partnership with local nonprofits. There will be digital literacy courses in partnership with Lift DC, classes focused on financial literacy with Operation Hope DC, as well adult education courses with Academy of Hope DC. The MTL can also be requested by organizations for events and programming.
Even though programming hasn’t started yet, the redesign and refocusing of the MTL has already garnered attention. The bus recently won a prize in the Most Promising New Plan category in a competition organized by Next Century Cities and the National League of Cities in partnership with Google Fiber.
In addition to its partnerships with nonprofits, the MTL has plans to work with other government departments, too.
Programs are being developed to use the MTL for the school lottery system — which takes place online and is disadvantageous to communities with limited internet access — as well as using the bus to help implement the D.C. end of the federal ConnectHome project.
“The power of the vehicle is what it can actually do,” said Squires, “and the places we will go.”