WASHINGTON, D.C. – 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 Federal Communications Commission.
ALA President Julius C. Jefferson, Jr., praised the legislation, saying, “The American Library Association (ALA) is pleased to see the introduction of Senator Manchin’s and Senator Cornyn’s solutions to keep their communities connected and Wi-Fi hotspots are in high demand as people pivot to learning, working, seeking healthcare, and many day-to-day tasks online. 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 ALA commends the Senators for recognizing that investment in libraries is the most effective way to put the broadband provisions to work. 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 Wi-Fi hotspots, extending their Wi-Fi signals beyond their walls, and delivering Wi-Fi access into the community with mobile vans and partnerships with community organizations.
In addition to advocating for funding to expand internet access through libraries, ALA is urging Congress to support the Library Stabilization Fund Act (S.4181 / H.R.7486), which would address financial losses due to COVID-19 and bolster library services, allowing libraries to continue to provide essential community services, including distance learning, telemedicine, e-government services, digital collections and legal information.