U.S. Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and John Cornyn (R-TX) introduced the bipartisan Accelerating Connected Care and Education Support Services on the Internet Act (ACCESS the Internet Act), which includes funding for libraries. The $2 billion legislation addresses immediate gaps in internet access necessary for distance learning and telehealth.
The distance learning provision will fuel a two-year, $200 million hotspot pilot program for libraries, to be administered by the Institute of Museum and Library Services. A minimum allotment of $1.6 million per state will allow states, tribes, and territories to purchase and distribute internet-connected devices to libraries in low-income and rural areas. The bill includes funding for the Department of Education, the Veterans Administration and the FCC.
The Competitive Carriers Association praised the legislation. CCA President/CEO Steve Berry said: “As they have noted, broadband access is essential for remote work, education, and healthcare, and I strongly support their push to make resources available to provide connectivity as quickly as possible through mobile hotspots and wireless service. Closing the digital divide must be a top priority for policymakers, and I reiterate the call to prioritize policies and support for wireless broadband as part of the pandemic response.”
ALA President Julius C. Jefferson, Jr., also lauded the measure, saying with so many households still without broadband at home, libraries are key to addressing digital inequities the COVID-19 pandemic has laid bare. “The ACCESS the Internet Act is a timely step in the right direction and commends the Senators for recognizing that investment in libraries is the most effective way to put the broadband provisions to work,” said Jefferson. “This bill alongside legislation to ensure libraries are fully staffed will help millions of under-connected Americans during this critical time.”
Ensuring that libraries have affordable, high-capacity internet access is a critical priority on ALA’s national advocacy agenda. Throughout the pandemic, libraries have been striving to ensure their communities remain connected by loaning WiFi hotspots, extending their WiFi signals beyond their walls, and delivering WiFi access into the community with mobile vans and partnerships with community organizations.