The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation announced Tuesday (Dec. 1) that it is committing $3.4 million in grants to help improve Internet connections for public libraries in five states. The announcement comes on the heels of a recent American Library Association study which found that 60% of libraries in the U.S. say their current Internet speed is insufficient.
Libraries in Arkansas, Kansas, Massachusetts, New York and Virginia received funds from the foundation to complete statewide Internet connection improvements. Those five states partnered with the foundation earlier this year to develop strategies for upgrading public library Internet access.
Fourteen other states will participate in the Gates Foundation's new "Opportunity Online" broadband grant program which will help libraries develop proposals for broadband stimulus funding from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration's Broadband Technology Opportunities Program.
"Federal, state and local government investments in connecting libraries to broadband are important steps toward realizing the vision of universal broadband access," said Jill Nishi, deputy director of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's U.S. Libraries program.
The push to improve library Internet connections could help people with low incomes most dramatically. Nearly 40% of Americans, most with lower income, don't have high-speed Internet at home. In most communities, public libraries are the only provider of free Internet to residents.