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Collins, Manchin Announce Bill to Increase Funding for Library Broadband Hotspots in Rural America Amid COVID-19

Washington, D.C. – U.S. Senators Susan Collins (R-ME) and Joe Manchin (D-WV) announced that they are introducing the Hotspots and Online Technology and Services Procurement for our Tribes and States (HOTSPOTS) Act, a bipartisan bill that would create a two-year, $160 million hotspot pilot program to purchase and distribute Internet-connected devices to libraries in low-income and rural areas.


“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.”


“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.”


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 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 Cellular Telecommunications Industry Association (CTIA) Senior Vice President, Government Affairs, Kelly Cole.


“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.


Background information from the American Libraries Association can be found here.


Bill text can be found here.