There’s good news and bad news for American libraries. First, the good news: The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) set aside $7.2 billion to expand broadband connectivity in libraries, schools, and other “anchor institutions” across the country. This funding couldn’t have come at a better time. In most communities, struggling public libraries are the only source of free internet access—and according to one study, 69% of all Americans have used the internet in the past year to look for a job, sell personal items, improve their skills, or find other ways to cope with the recession. In this economy, the internet is more of a necessity than a luxury.
Unfortunately, the government released its first Notice of Funding Availability (NOFA) last month to establish how the ARRA’s $7.2 billion in broadband funding will be distributed. That’s where the bad news comes in. According to a letter from the ALA to the assistant secretary of commerce, the NOFA “in effect de-prioritizes libraries and discourages them from applying for funding.” Specifically, the new rules count communities as “unserved” or “underserved” only if 50% to 90% of households lack internet access, a definition that excludes most urban areas from serious funding. This is a major departure from the original intent of the bill, and the ALA has requested changes.
To help libraries and library patrons get the resources they need, please take a moment to write your representative, your senator, and the White House, or leave us a comment explaining how your library’s free internet access helps you. It’s not too late to make your voice heard!