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FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
December 21, 2009

FOR MORE INFORMATION:
Rod Wagner
402-471-4001
800-307-2665

OR
Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation
206-709-3400
media@gatesfoundation.org

Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation Announces New Support for Public Libraries to Help Provide Broadband Access for More Americans

Foundation will fund state-level efforts to improve Internet connections in libraries, and to apply for federal broadband stimulus funds.

The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation announced partnerships with fourteen states, including Nebraska, to help libraries compete for federal broadband stimulus funds. States participating in the foundation's Opportunity Online broadband grant program will receive technical and consulting assistance to develop competitive funding proposals for federal funding from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) Broadband Technology Opportunities Program, established through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. NTIA's Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) is expected to award federal stimulus grants to private and public sector applicants starting in early 2010 to expand broadband infrastructure to more communities across the country and to help new Internet users benefit from broadband access. Contingent on the Nebraska Library Commission receiving funding for a successful grant proposal, Nebraska will receive federally-required matching funds from the Gates Foundation. Participating states will also receive assistance to help secure additional federal E-rate funding to sustain broadband connection costs in the future.

The foundation solicited letters of interest for the Opportunity Online broadband program from the Nebraska Library Commission and other state library agencies seeking to acquire significant additional broadband access for libraries in their respective states. The foundation chose to support states that articulated the most compelling and feasible projects aligned with the objectives of the BTOP program. The foundation also considered a state's need for assistance in developing a competitive BTOP proposal.

"There is growing need for expanded broadband access and services in Nebraska libraries," said Rod Wagner, director of the Nebraska Library Commission, which will partner with the foundation to apply for BTOP funds. "It is critical that broadband access extend to Nebraska libraries to support their role as vital community technology hubs."

Nearly 40 percent of Americans, often those with lower incomes and lower levels of education, still don't have high-speed Internet access at home. In most communities (70 percent), the public library is the only provider of free Internet access available to residents.  

In addition to Nebraska, the fourteen partner states include Alaska, Arizona, Colorado, Delaware, Idaho, Kentucky, Montana, North Carolina, New Jersey, Oklahoma, Utah, Vermont, and Washington. The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation also committed nearly $3.4 million in grants to improve and maintain Internet connections in local libraries in five states: Arkansas ($735,207), Kansas ($363,099), Massachusetts ($367,789), New York ($947,517), and Virginia ($977,468).  

Nationally, libraries report that customer demand for high-speed Internet access is growing faster than their ability to provide increased bandwidth. A recent American Library Association study reports that 60 percent of all libraries say their current Internet speed is insufficient. "Federal, state, and local government investments in connecting libraries to broadband are important steps toward realizing the vision of universal broadband access," said Jill Nishi, deputy director of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation's U.S. Libraries program. "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."  

The foundation 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. The foundation continues to support libraries through investments in programs, research, advocacy training, and public awareness efforts that will help libraries sustain high-quality online access for patrons in partnership with their communities. For more information, visit: www.gatesfoundation.org/libraries.  

For downloadable high-resolution photos, please visit: www.gatesfoundation.org/press-room/Pages/news-market.aspx.  


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About the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Guided by the belief that every life has equal value, the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation works to help all people lead healthy, productive lives. In developing countries, it focuses on improving people's health and giving them the chance to lift themselves out of hunger and extreme poverty. In the United States, it seeks to ensure that all people-especially those with the fewest resources-have access to the opportunities they need to succeed in school and life. Based in Seattle, Washington the foundation is led by CEO Jeff Raikes and Co-chair William H. Gates Sr., under the direction of Bill and Melinda Gates and Warren Buffett. Learn more at www.gatesfoundation.org or join the conversation at Facebook and Twitter.

About the Nebraska Library Commission

As the state library agency, the Nebraska Library Commission is an advocate for the library and information needs of all Nebraskans. The mission of the Library Commission is statewide promotion, development, and coordination of library and information services, "bringing together people and information." The Nebraska Library Commission will partner with the Gates Foundation for the Opportunity Online broadband grant program on behalf of Nebraska libraries.

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The most up-to-date news releases from the Nebraska Library Commission are always available on the Library Commission Website, nlc.nebraska.gov, search on News Releases.

For more information, contact Mary Jo Ryan.