Public libraries in seven states to engage in broadband pilot programS

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced a $6.9 million pilot grant to public libraries in seven states today to improve the speed of Internet connections.

The foundation is splitting the funds between two Speed Matters partners - Connected Nation and the American Library Association - and has targeted the money at Arkansas, California, Kansas, Massachusetts, New York and Virginia.

American Library Association President Jim Rettig said:

"Our nation's future depends on our ability to compete successfully in global markets. 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."

Connected Nation will receive the majority of the funds to help each state organize and host a broadband summit that will engage state and local government, public library leaders and community leaders.

The American Library Association's Office for Information Technology will receive the rest and help each state develop and implement strategies to ensure that high-speed Internet connections remain sustainable.

According to a recent report, compiled by the American Library Association, in 73 percent of American communities the local public library is the only source of free Internet access.

Jill Nishi, deputy director of U.S. Libraries at the Gates Foundation said:

"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.

"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."

The seven states were selected because they had high concentrations of public libraries with Internet speeds of less than 1.5 Mbps, policy support from state governments to increase broadband in libraries and state library agencies that have taken previous steps to "improve and sustain" quality Internet connections in libraries.

Pilot grant program to improve Internet connections in public libraries (Gates Foundation)

Partners and Allies (Speed Matters)

New Report Published - Libraries Connect Communities: Public Library Funding & Technology Access Study 2007-2008 (MaintainIT Project)