As of June 10, 2020, applications are no longer being accepted, and all award notifications have been sent out. Thank you for applying!
The Public Library Association (PLA) and Microsoft Corp. are working together to increase access to technology in rural communities during the COVID-19 crisis. In April 2020, Microsoft provided $120,000 to help public libraries in rural communities with hardware and support to install public WiFi access points on or near library grounds.
Libraries have been and continue to be essential to the nation’s digital safety net, connecting communities to the internet and teaching computer skills. The American Library Association (ALA) has recommended that libraries can and should leave their WiFi networks on even when their buildings are closed wherever possible. On March 25, 2020, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) issued a public notice confirming community use of E-rate supported WiFi networks.
In PLA’s COVID-19 survey of public libraries, over 80% of respondents report they leave on their public WiFi access when the library building is closed, and 12% have added or expanded this service since the COVID-19 crisis began. About 36% of respondents have located WiFi access points outside the building, and 8% are trying to expand that service. Through this opportunity, PLA and Microsoft hope to accelerate the ability of libraries, particularly those in underserved areas, to locate WiFi access points outside the library.
While these new access points will help rural libraries increase access to the internet, we recognize that health and well-being are paramount during the crisis. We 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.
Which libraries and communities are eligible?
Only rural libraries in specific counties were eligible. This project aligns with Microsoft’s efforts to close the broadband gap through its Airband Initiative and to ensure everyone can benefit from the digital economy through Microsoft TechSpark. The Airband Initiative is working with Internet Service Providers (ISPs) in 25 states and hundreds of counties in those states, and Microsoft TechSpark is active in 9 states. PLA and Microsoft are targeting these resources at libraries that may not otherwise have capacity to purchase and install public access points, so libraries must be serving rural communities (as defined by Institute of Museum and Library Services locale codes 41, 42, or 43. See IMLS Public Libraries Survey, Fiscal Year 2017, pages 23–24).
For libraries who are not eligible, PLA and Microsoft are offering training tools and other resources to help with virtual programing (see below).
To check if your library is eligible, please review this list of states and counties.
What will my library get?
This initiative offered hardware (Cisco AIR-AP3702I-A-K9 or other products) to create new public WiFi access points using the library’s current WiFi service outside the library facility. Priority was given to those libraries who only need hardware and can handle installation themselves or through their own ISPs or other community partners. This will help expedite opening up the service. Libraries approved through the program may also submit for reimbursement of expenses (up to $250 or $500) for materials (housing materials, security, etc.) and for costs to promote the new service, for instance via purchased social media ads. Receipts must be submitted to reimbursement, which may take 6-8 weeks.
How do I apply?
As of June 10, 2020, applications are closed.
When will I be notified?
As of June 10, 2020, all applicants who were successful have been notified. Applicants who did not receive any notification were not granted the devices and funding at this time, however their applications will be held in case additional resources become available later this summer.
What happens if my application is successful?
If your library’s application was successful, you received an email about next steps and hardware delivery. You will be expected to set up and activate the public access point and then notify PLA when it’s up and running. Please send PLA a photo of the installation to share on social media to promote your good work! You may also be asked periodically to let PLA know how you are promoting it and supporting it, how it is being used, and if it’s helping to increase internet access in your community. An evaluation questionnaire about your participation in the program will be sent sometime over the summer.
The initiative will cover the costs of the hardware, and when approved, installation. Libraries are welcome to keep the equipment and continue to use it as a public access point indefinitely.
What other resources are available for my library?
For all libraries, including those who are not eligible for hardware and other support due to size or geography, PLA and Microsoft are offering training tools and other resources to help with virtual programing. Please visit PLA’s Digital Literacy page for links to free online training resources, recorded webinars on how to offer digital literacy training, and more.
For questions and other information
Please contact Scott Allen, PLA Deputy Director, at firstname.lastname@example.org or 312-280-5858 with any other questions or comments.