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NJ State Library Receives Grant from Gates Foundation
The Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation committed nearly $3.4 million in grants to bolster Internet connections for libraries in five states, and announced partnerships with 14 additional states, including New Jersey, to help public libraries compete for federal broadband stimulus funds. Nationally, libraries report that patron 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.
New Jersey will participate in the foundation’s new Opportunity Online broadband grant program, which will help libraries develop proposals for federal broadband stimulus funding from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) established through the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
The grant received by the New Jersey State Library will be used to assist in writing a grant proposal for submission to the BTOP for “last mile” connectivity, making public libraries community anchor institutions for broadband. The "last mile" is the final leg of delivering connectivity from a communications provider to a customer. It is typically seen as an expensive challenge because "fanning out" wires and cables is a considerable physical undertaking.
Currently, many NJ libraries are unable to offer adequate broadband connectivity for customers due to last mile limitations. This includes many underserved urban areas, as well as more rural and remote parts of the state.
The Gates Foundation grant provides a consultant who will work out of the State Library for 14 weeks compiling the grant proposal. If BTOP funding is awarded to the NJ State Library, the Gates Foundation will pay the 20 percent matching funding required by the BTOP.
“Improving connectivity to our libraries will allow for better access for the many New Jersey families who do not have computers or access to the Internet at home,” said Norma Blake, NJ State Librarian. “Our libraries have seen a dramatic increase in computer demand due to the recession’s impact on their communities. Their customers need this access for job searching, research, filing government documents and for homework assistance. Bolstering these last mile connections will allow our libraries to keep up with the increased demand for wireless internet connectivity; network applications and services; and offer expanded training programs and services.”
As a national leader in the direct delivery of technology services to public libraries, the NJ State Library is uniquely positioned to deliver enhanced, efficient and successful last mile connectivity to the state’s libraries. Through the JerseyConnect program, New Jersey libraries already benefit from an effective, stable and scalable statewide middle mile network infrastructure. With this network and support structure in place, the NJ State Library will be able to focus solely on the crucial last mile connection from the library to the statewide network.
“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 who lack Internet access elsewhere. As community anchor institutions, libraries can also help drive local broadband adoption.”
Nearly 40 percent of Americans, often those with lower incomes and lower levels of education, still do not 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.
The 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.
States participating in the foundation’s Opportunity Online broadband grant program will receive technical and consulting assistance to develop competitive funding proposals for BTOP, and will receive federally-required matching funds from the Gates Foundation, contingent on a successful BTOP award. 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 state libraries 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.
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.