July 08, 2020

Manchin, Collins Bill To Increase Funding For Library Broadband Hotspots In Rural America

Charleston, WV – U.S. Senators Joe Manchin (D-WV) and Susan Collins (R-ME) plan to introduce the bipartisan Hotspots and Online Technology and Services Procurement for our Tribes and States (HOTSPOTS) Act during the next Senate session. The HOTSPOTS Act would create a 2-year, $160 million hotspot pilot program with a minimum allotment of $1.6 million per State to allow States, Tribes, and Territories to purchase and distribute Internet-connected devices to libraries in low-income and rural areas.

“Americans and West Virginians have had to adjust to a new way of working, learning, and living from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic and for most people, this change relies on accessible, reliable broadband, which many rural Americans do not have,” said Senator Manchin. “Senator Collins and I are introducing the HOTSPOTS Act to help address these challenges facing low-income and rural students and families forced to work from home during school and office closures. Our bipartisan bill would help libraries across rural America provide broadband hotspots to their communities to ensure every West Virginian and American has access to the reliable broadband they need to work and learn from home during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

“During the COVID-19 pandemic, many Americans have had to move their studies, health care services, and workplaces online. This transition, however, has made it particularly difficult for those who do not have access to reliable broadband at home,” said Senator Collins. “Our bipartisan bill would establish a hotspot pilot program that would provide Internet-connected devices to libraries, helping to close the digital divide for rural and low-income residents in Maine and throughout the country.”

While the lack of reliable broadband access is mainly a long-term infrastructure issue, the current COVID-19 pandemic has made the short-term challenges imposed on businesses, families, and others from mandatory school closures and business interruptions even more acutely felt without reliable access to broadband. Local libraries are often the only source of free Wi-Fi in rural communities. Seniors, homeless individuals, and students all rely on libraries for access to essential services online. Hotspots and other devices are inexpensive, easily deployable, and will help address immediate connectivity needs while continuing to work on addressing the longer-term challenges.

“The American Library Association (ALA) welcomes the introduction of Senator Manchin’s and Senator Collins’s HOTSPOTS Act, which recognizes the most efficient way to help people most affected by the digital divide is through America’s libraries – especially in rural and low-income communities. The Act takes a critical step to ensure everyone has internet access while education, work, and much of daily life pivot online. Libraries know first-hand that demand for hotspots and devices has skyrocketed, and they stand poised to meet the demand. The bill provides essential funding that would be put to work immediately through libraries in every state. Combined with legislation to prevent cuts to library staff, the HOTSPOTS Act has potential to boost millions of under-connected Americans into an era of digital communication,” said ALA President Julius C. Jefferson, Jr.

“We are pleased that Senator Manchin and Senator Collins introduced the HOTSPOTS Act, built on the library core value of equitable access to information for all library users. Here in West Virginia it will enable the West Virginia Library Commission to expand access to internet based information and services for rural libraries where adequate, affordable internet access is still a luxury. With the changes due to the COVID-19 pandemic, libraries across the state made wireless access outside their buildings a priority and continue to provide internet based services. This bill will enable them to provide even more services to connect their users and communities to the information they need,” said Karen E. Goff, Executive Secretary of the West Virginia Library Commission.

“We commend Senators Manchin and Collins for their work on the HOTSPOTS Act. Making hotspots available through local libraries will help all Americans, especially those who are low-income or in rural areas, stay connected when it matters most,” said Kelly Cole, Senior Vice President, Government Affairs, CTIA.

“For Americans that do not have a broadband connection at home, hotspots represent the most immediate solution to allow them to connect, including for online education, work, and telehealth services.  I commend Senators Manchin and Collins for their work on the HOTSPOTS Act to establish a pilot program to allow rural and low-income Americans to connect by making hotspots available through local libraries, letting them access a broadband connection as they would check out other resources,” said Steven K. Berry, President and CEO, Competitive Carriers Association.

"The SHLB Coalition is very pleased to support the legislation developed by Senators Manchin and Collins.  Libraries have been at the forefront of addressing the digital divide by loaning "hot spots" and making other broadband alternatives available to Internet-disadvantaged people.  Many of these library initiatives have been funded by foundation funding that has since expired.  This legislation will provide critical funding for IMLS to ensure that each state has the resources to develop a library-led hot spot lending program,” said John Windhausen, Executive Director, Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition.

Background information from the American Libraries Association on how libraries are bringing connectivity to Americans during this crisis can be found here.

Bill text can be found here.