Pilot Grant Program To Improve Internet Connections in Public Libraries
Foundation awards $6.9 million in grants to Connected Nation and the American Library Association to help launch pilot broadband initiative in seven states
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
SEATTLE — A pilot initiative announced today by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation will help public libraries in seven states secure faster Internet connections so more people can access a full range of online applications and opportunities.
The foundation has awarded $6,959,771 in combined grant funding to Connected Nation, a non-profit broadband Internet advocacy group, and the American Library Association’s Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP) to support improved Internet connections for public libraries in Arkansas, California, Kansas, Massachusetts, New York, Texas, and Virginia.
“Through this pilot program, we will help to ensure that public libraries in seven states have support to improve their Internet speeds, ensuring that all people have the chance to connect to information, education, and economic opportunity,” said Jill Nishi, deputy director of U.S. Libraries at the Gates Foundation. “Public libraries across the country have played an integral role in closing the digital divide for millions of Americans, but local governments, communities, and library supporters must do more to ensure libraries can continue to provide fast, reliable Internet service for communities.”
Connected Nation will receive $6,107,882 to help each pilot state organize and host a broadband summit to gather and activate public library leaders, state and local officials, and other influencers who can support broadband Internet in libraries throughout each state.
OITP will receive $851,889 to provide research and expertise that will help state library agencies develop and begin to implement strategies to ensure library broadband connections are sustainable. OITP also will develop and disseminate case studies demonstrating how public libraries can successfully sustain broadband for patrons.
As the economic crisis in the U.S. deepens, visits to public libraries are up across the country. Many libraries in states across the country are reporting that online services are in high demand, especially for job seekers, students, and people who do not have Internet access elsewhere.
A recent report compiled by the American Library Association titled Libraries Connect Communities found that 73 percent of public libraries are the only source of free, public Internet access in their communities. Despite overwhelming demand for technology services, up to a third of all public libraries have Internet connections that are too slow to meet the everyday needs of their patrons.
Connected Nation, OITP, and the Gates Foundation will work with state library agencies to improve and sustain Internet connections in all public libraries within the pilot states to at least 1.5 Mbps, or faster wherever feasible.
Broadband access to the Internet in libraries helps ensure that patrons can access multimedia rich content becoming more standard on the web. For example, interactive, online educational courses with streaming video or audio, online job application sites and databases, or government application downloads are more easily accessed by higher speed connections.
“Connected Nation is pleased to join the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s efforts to improve broadband connectivity in America’s public libraries,” said Brian Mefford, Chairman and CEO of Connected Nation. “Libraries are often the best point of Internet access for people who otherwise could not afford access. It is imperative that state and local leaders recognize this important community service and commit to supporting local library efforts to ensure access to quality broadband.”
The foundation is inviting the seven pilot states to submit proposals to support the increased cost and implementation of faster Internet connections. Participating states will work with Connected Nation and OITP to develop plans to ensure the long-term sustainability of broadband connections, a condition of the foundation’s request for proposals.
“Our nation’s future depends on our ability to compete successfully in global markets,” said ALA President Jim Rettig. “To maintain our competitive edge, citizens must be guaranteed access to the ever-expanding universe of knowledge, tools, services, and resources available on the Internet. Public libraries not only can and should provide that access, they also act as catalysts for improving Internet service for entire communities.”
States selected for the pilot Opportunity Online broadband grant program had high concentrations of public libraries with Internet speeds of less than 1.5 Mbps; public policy support to increase broadband in public libraries; and state library agencies that had taken steps to improve and sustain quality Internet connections in libraries.
To inform the pilot grant program, the foundation commissioned research on the quality and type of Internet connections provided in the nation’s public libraries. This data, encompassing libraries in all 50 states, will be available to the library field for advocacy and planning purposes.
To date, the foundation has invested $325 million in grants and other support to install and sustain computers in libraries and train thousands of library staff in all 50 states and U.S. territories. The foundation continues to support libraries through investments in research, training, and advocacy, and programs that help libraries sustain high-quality technology services for patrons.
If the pilot broadband grant program yields positive results in the seven pilot states, the foundation may expand its support to a limited number of additional states.
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
Guided by the belief that every life has equal value, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation works to help all people lead healthy, productive lives. In developing countries, it focuses on improving people’s health and giving them the chance to lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty. In the United States, it seeks to ensure that all people–especially those with the fewest resources–have access to the opportunities they need to succeed in school and life. Based in Seattle, the foundation is led by CEO Jeff Raikes and co-chair William H. Gates Sr., under the direction of Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett.