The Public Library Association and Microsoft announce initiative to help expand internet access in rural communities during COVID-19 crisis

For Immediate Release
Tue, 04/28/2020


Scott Allen

Deputy Director

Public Library Association

American Library Association

CHICAGO — The Public Library Association (PLA) and Microsoft Corp. announced a new initiative today to increase access to technology in rural communities during the COVID-19 crisis. Microsoft will provide funding to help public libraries in rural communities extend WiFi access by installing public WiFi access points on or near library grounds.

Libraries continue to be essential to the nation’s digital safety net, connecting communities to the internet and teaching computer skills. During the COVID-19 crisis, the American Library Association (ALA) recommends that libraries can and should leave their WiFi networks on even when their buildings are closed wherever possible. A majority of U.S public libraries already leave on their public WiFi access when the library building is closed and will continue to do so. However, according to a recent survey of public library responses to COVID-19, less than 40 percent of public libraries have located WiFi access points outside their buildings, and only 8 percent reported trying to expand that service. Through this joint effort, PLA and Microsoft hope to accelerate the deployment of WiFi access points outside of libraries, particularly those in rural areas that lack widespread high-speed internet access.

Microsoft is committed to closing the rural broadband gap through its Airband Initiative and ensuring everyone can benefit from the digital economy through Microsoft TechSpark. These initiatives are connecting unserved communities to broadband and closing the skills gap so individuals can succeed in the workforce. Rural public libraries in 28 states served by Airband and TechSpark will be eligible to apply through PLA to receive hardware and support to establish public WiFi access points.

To help rural communities reap the benefits of broadband connectivity, PLA and Microsoft are providing free digital skilling resources that libraries and the communities they serve can access during and after the crisis. This offering is part of PLA’s DigitalLead: Rural Libraries Creating New Possibilities program, a Microsoft-supported effort to help rural libraries with technology equipment and skilling resources. Links to training tools, recorded webinars and more will be posted on PLA’s digital literacy initiative site.

While these new access points will help rural libraries increase access to the internet, PLA and Microsoft recognize that health and well-being are paramount and advise that libraries and their patrons continue to follow any applicable local, state and federal health and safety guidelines, including those regarding sheltering in place and social distancing.

The first application period opens today, and awards will be made on a rolling basis until resources are depleted. A list of eligibility criteria, award information, and application instructions are posted on the PLA and Microsoft Public Hotspot Micro Grant program.

# # #

About the Public Library Association

The Public Library Association (PLA) is the largest association dedicated to supporting the unique and evolving needs of public library professionals. Founded in 1944, PLA serves nearly 10,000 members in public libraries large and small in communities across the United States and Canada, with a growing presence around the world. PLA strives to help its members shape the essential institution of public libraries by serving as an indispensable ally for public library leaders. For more information about PLA, contact the PLA office at 1 (800) 545-2433, ext. 5PLA, or

About Microsoft

Microsoft (Nasdaq “MSFT” @microsoft) enables digital transformation for the era of an intelligent cloud and an intelligent edge. Its mission is to empower every person and every organization on the planet to achieve more.