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Gates Foundation Looks To Expand Upon Prior Grant to Libraries Offering Broadband

in Broadband Data/Broadband Stimulus by

WASHINGTON, December 1, 2009 – The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation said Tuesday it will provide close to $3.4 million in grants to improve Internet connections for libraries in five states. The foundation is also partnering with 14 other states to assist efforts by libraries to secure some of the $7.2 billion in federal stimulus funds allotted by Congress in January to expand broadband deployment and adoption.

“When libraries have access to broadband, they can effectively deliver critical educational, employment, and government services for residents that lack Internet access elsewhere. As community anchor institutions, libraries can also help drive local broadband adoption,” said Jill Nishi, deputy director of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s U.S. Libraries program, in a statement.

The five states receiving Gates Foundation grants to implement local broadband improvement plans have partnered with the foundation since early 2009 to develop strategies for improving Internet connections for their libraries.

These states include: Arkansas, which received $735,207 from the foundation this week; Kansas, which received $363,099; Massachusetts, which received $367,789; New York, which received $947,517; and Virginia, which received $977,468. The Gates Foundation said the state libraries of California and Texas participated in the program and will be eligible for grants in early 2010. It also added that it has “invested $350 million in grants and support to install and sustain computers in libraries and train thousands of library staff in all 50 states and U.S. territories.”

In late 2008 the Gates Foundation said it would provide Connected Nation and the American Library Association with a $7 million grant meant to improve internet connections in public libraries. Broadband Census news reported that the goal at the time was to ensure that all public libraries within seven states – Arkansas, California, Kansas, Massachusetts, New York, Texas and Virginia – have broadband connectivity of at least 1.5 Megabits per second. The foundation picked the states because they had large populations with individuals living below the poverty line.

Connected Nation, a Kentucky-based non-profit organization that is funded by Bell and cable companies and by state appropriations, was not mentioned in the Gates Foundation release Tuesday. “Today’s grant announcement is for the five states to implement the plans that they developed with the grant that you referenced from last year. While Connected Nation and [ALA] supported the states as they were developing these plans, the phase of the work that will be funded by today’s announcement is for the states to implement their plans for improving and sustaining high-speed Internet access,” a person familiar with the work of the foundation told Broadband Census News.

The NTIA announced Monday that Connected Nation is being awarded approximately $2 million from the government for its broadband mapping and planning efforts in the state of Kansas.

The Gates Foundation said Tuesday that states who are participating in the group’s new Opportunity Online broadband grant program will receive technical and consulting assistance to develop competitive funding proposals for available government funds. The foundation said it will match the federally-required private funds if a library is chosen. These states include: Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, Idaho, Kentucky, Montana, North Carolina, Nebraska, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Utah, Vermont, and Washington.

The foundation said it chose “to support states that articulated the most compelling and feasible projects aligned with the objectives of the [Broadband Technology Opportunities Program] program” and “considered a state’s need for assistance in developing a competitive BTOP proposal.”

The Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration and the Agriculture Department’s Rural Utilities Service are administering the federal broadband stimulus funds to selected grant applicants. The American Library Association said Monday it would like the agencies to simplify the application and review process and prioritize funding for “community anchor institutions.”

“Libraries are uniquely positioned to deliver on the promise and objectives of the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program and the Broadband Initiatives Program,” said Carrie McGuire, director for the program on networks for the ALA Office for Information Technology Policy, in a statement. “We strongly encourage the NTIA and RUS to make changes to the program prior to Round 2 to ensure that libraries can take maximum advantage of this opportunity,” she said.

The Gates Foundation said nationally libraries are not able to offer high-speed Internet access to match patron demand. A recent American Library Association study found 60 percent of all libraries said their current Internet speed is insufficient. In 70 percent of U.S. communities “the public library is the only provider of free Internet access available to residents,” according to the foundation.

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