We long ago recognized the need to expand broadband, but this crisis has magnified the urgency to close the digital divide that puts rural areas at a significant disadvantage. More than ever, individuals and families are turning to a trusted resource to access the internet libraries.
Local libraries are often the only source of free Wi-Fi in rural communities. Many seniors, homeless individuals and students rely solely on libraries to get online. During this public health emergency, libraries across the country have continued offering this critical service. A survey of librarians by the Public Library Association found that over 40 percent of respondents moved their library’s routers o
In addition, they are allowing patrons to check out mobile hotspots for at-home use. With libraries facing this increase in demand, it is important we provide them with the tools to remain a community outlet for reliable internet service.
Malvern, in Hot Springs County, provides a perfect example of the rising demand for mobile hotspots. According to the American Library Association, 35 percent of the city is without any internet access. Residents instead rely on their library for Wi-Fi and hotspots to stay connected. According to Garland County Library leaders, the hotspot devices are the most requested items in its collection, but there are only 10 available to patrons. This leaves an average of 50 people awaiting their turn to check one out.
As founder and co-chair of the Senate Broadband Caucus, I’ve been working with my colleagues to close the digital divide. We must do so for our rural and underserved communities to thrive in the 21st century economy, especially during this challenging time when access to a quality internet connection has become even more difficult to come by. Providing tools that improve connectivity will help Arkansans adjust to the challenges of doing more work, learning and other necessities remotely.