Delegate Peace Announces Grant from Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation

Grant to afford new support for public librariesSupport to provide increased broadband access

Central Virginia – Delegate Christopher K. Peace (R) proudly announces the awarding of $3.4 million in grants from the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation to bolster Internet connections for libraries in just five states. Earlier this year, the Librarian of Virginia Sandy Treadway invited Del. Peace to join a select task force as its only legislative member. The Summit Advisory Group was assembled to author the Gates grant application and organize a statewide broadband summit. Along with local librarians and local elected officials, Peace assisted in the grant process and served as an expert panelist for the broadband conference. As a result of his efforts, Virginia will receive approximately 1/3 of Gates funding nationally or $977,468 in foundation funds to execute statewide plans to improve and maintain Internet connections in local libraries. Funding will likely impact internet services at 7 of the 10 branches in the Pamunkey Regional Library system covering large portions of the 97th district.

"Investments in connecting libraries to broadband are important steps toward realizing the vision of increased broadband access in rural areas and I am proud to have played a role in delivering this needed technology," asserted Delegate Peace. "When libraries have access to broadband, they can effectively deliver critical educational, employment, and government services for residents that lack Internet access elsewhere."

Peace continued, "It is critical that current efforts to expand broadband access in Virginia include strong support for public libraries so they can continue to serve as thriving, vital community technology hubs; Broadband is every bit a part of infrastructure that roads are and it is an integral part of economic development."

“The Pamunkey Regional Library Board of Trustees is excited to learn of the recent Gates Foundation award to improve broadband connectivity in Virginia and optimistic that state and local financial support of library service will be maintained to allow the library to participate in the grant," affirmed Tom Shepley, Director, Pamunkey Regional Library (PRL).

Shepley continued, "Preliminary information indicates that seven of the ten PRL branches may be eligible to benefit from this grant. Many residents in the library's service area of Hanover, Goochland, King and Queen and King William counties do not have access to broadband at their home and rely on their local public library for Internet access." Nationally, libraries report that patron demand for high-speed Internet access is growing faster than their ability to provide increased bandwidth. A recent American Library Association study reports that 60 percent of all libraries say their current Internet speed is insufficient. In most communities (70 percent), the public library is the only provider of free Internet access available to residents.

"The libraries eligible to receive grant monies are those in the Commonwealth that currently do not have 1.5 MBps broadband connectivity. Our hope is that this grant will enable the eligible libraries to reach that level -- and possibly go even higher. As the Gates grant includes a local match component, we realize that this is a challenge in these tough economic times -- but the Library of Virginia stands ready to do all that we can to assist Virginia's eligible libraries in making this happen," stated Sandra Treadway, Librarian of Virginia.

The five states receiving Gates Foundation grants to implement local broadband improvement plans have partnered with the foundation since early 2009 to develop strategies for upgrading and sustaining Internet connections in libraries, as well as raising federal E-rate participation rates among libraries. Virginia was selected to receive foundation grants because we have a high number of libraries without high-speed Internet access that are struggling to increase their bandwidth for patrons.

Delegate Peace has been focused on access to broadband services for economic development in rural Virginia. He was successful in the passage of HB 1329 a measure which requires state agencies to lease or convey their communication towers to broadband service providers to supply service to areas that do not currently receive adequate service. By making State owned property available to companies through opportunities to lease space in an expeditious and economical manner and not having to build out the infrastructure, internet service providers may be able to "piggy-back" in un-served areas to provide new services.

Peace asserts, "Increasing wireless and broadband internet service to un-served areas in the 97th District is a great priority of mine and important to my constituents. Not only will residents benefit, but so will small or at home businesses. Economic development directors will now have another tool to draw businesses to our localities."

Delegate Christopher K. Peace was elected to his second term representing the 97th District of the Virginia House of Delegates. The District includes parts of Hanover, Caroline, King William, King and Queen, Henrico, Spotsylvania Counties and all of New Kent County