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Full participation in American society requires the ability to access and use digital content and technologies. However, older adults, rural residents, those with lower levels of education and income, and racial minorities are less likely than others to have broadband service at home.
Libraries play a significant role in providing digital access and encouraging adoption of internet use, which impacts the health and vitality of communities. The IMLS FY 2015 Public Library Survey showed that 99.2% of public libraries provide internet access.
According to the 2018 Federal Communications Commission (FCC) Broadband Progress report, many Americans still lack access to advanced, high-quality voice, data, graphics and video offerings, especially in rural areas and on Tribal lands. The report found that 14 million rural Americans and 1.2 million Americans living on Tribal lands lack mobile broadband at speeds of 10 Mbps/3 Mbps (the existing speed benchmark for fixed broadband). These statistics are sobering and have profound implications for economic success, educational achievement and civic life.
IMLS also supports a number of initiatives to expand broadband access to marginalized groups, thereby increasing digital inclusion. IMLS’s largest grant program, Grants to States, helps libraries assess connectivity needs, procure affordable broadband services, complete E-rate applications, train staff, and obtain technology. In 2014 and 2015, 38 states and three U.S. territories invested approximately $17,640,494 in IMLS funds towards broadband activities. Thirty of 56 state libraries (53.5%) indicated plans to fund activities related to broadband areas in 2018-2022 with IMLS funds.
- The pilot project of the University Corporation for Advanced Internet Development (Internet 2) and its tribal, association, and state library partners to develop a library broadband network assessment toolkit and training program for rural and tribal libraries across five states.
- The State Library of North Carolina and its state agency partners’ work to design a model demonstrating the role North Carolina’s public libraries can play in promoting broadband access to address the K-12 homework gap in their communities.
- A San Jose State University project to help libraries explore how to dramatically expand Internet access in their communities with TV White Space, a new low-cost technology that taps into unused broadcasting frequencies in the wireless spectrum, to help improve disaster preparedness.