Gates Foundation Funds Library Broadband Projects

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The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation has committed nearly US$3.4 million in grants to improve Internet connections for libraries in five states, the foundation announced Tuesday.

The grants come as libraries report that demand for high-speed Internet access is growing faster than their ability to provide higher bandwidth, the foundation said. In May, the American Library Association published a study reporting that 60 percent of U.S. libraries said their bandwidth was insufficient.

In addition to the grants, the Gates Foundation also announced partnerships with 14 additional states to help public libraries compete for federal broadband stimulus funds.

The state library systems receiving foundation grants included Arkansas ($735,207), Kansas ($363,099), Massachusetts ($367,789), New York ($947,517), and Virginia ($977,468).

Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, Idaho, Kentucky, Montana, North Carolina, Nebraska, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Utah, Vermont, and Washington will participate in the foundation's new Opportunity Online broadband grant program, which will help libraries develop proposals for federal broadband stimulus funding from the U.S. National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA), with money from the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

"Federal, state, and local government investments in connecting libraries to broadband are important steps toward realizing the vision of universal broadband access," Jill Nishi, deputy director of the foundation's U.S. Libraries program, said in a statement. "When libraries have access to broadband, they can effectively deliver critical educational, employment, and government services for residents that lack Internet access elsewhere."

About 40 percent of U.S. residents don't have broadband access at home. In many communities, the public library is the only provider of free Internet access available to residents, the foundation said.

The five states receiving Gates Foundation grants have partnered with the foundation since early 2009 to develop strategies for upgrading and sustaining Internet connections in libraries. The five states were selected to receive foundation grants because they had a high number of libraries without high-speed Internet access that were struggling to increase their bandwidth for patrons, the foundation said.

The state libraries of California and Texas also participated in the program and will be eligible for grants in early 2010.

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