Free Public Internet Access Expands in 20 U.S. Cities Through Knight Foundation’s Library Initiative

Strengthening residents’ ability to use the Internet to improve their lives, the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation will help libraries in 20 U.S. communities enhance digital access and training.

The effort is part of the foundation’s $5.5 million Library Initiative. Launched in October, Knight is expanding it to eight additional communities, the foundation announced today. The new projects will:

Bring Internet access to underserved communities in Fort Wayne, Ind., where English-learning software will be available in neighborhoods home to Spanish and Burmese-speaking immigrants, and in St. Paul, where mobile computer labs will deliver job search and computer training assistance in Spanish, Hmong and Somali;

  • Create and expand wi-fi access in Duluth, Minn. and other communities;
  • Help people find jobs in Columbia, S.C., where the main library will create a special center for career and employment searches;
  • Provide computer training in several communities, including Biloxi and the Mississippi Gulf Coast where classes will offer instruction in basic computing, Internet and email use, social networking and resume writing;
  • Allow libraries to purchase new equipment in  Macon, Ga., where the main library will be refurbished to in order to become a neighborhood-gathering place, in Bradenton, Fla, where residents will be able to make job and other Internet searches faster with expanded bandwidth, and in San Jose, Calif., where more than 250 computers will be added.

"In the new economy, lack of access to computer resources and broadband divides communities, neighborhoods, and schools,” St. Paul Mayor Chris Coleman said. “Our libraries are filling that void, and thanks to partners like  Knight Foundation, we can bring the resources to our residents to ensure they are not left behind in this fast changing world."

The effort comes on the heels of sweeping recommendations by the Knight Commission on the Information Needs of Communities in a Democracy, a project of the Aspen Institute.  In a report issued earlier this year, the Commission asserts that democracy in America is threatened by the lack of equal access to quality information. Funding public libraries, as centers of digital and media training, is one key to filling the gaps, the commission says. The report is available at www.knightcomm.org.

“Internet access is a prerequisite to being an informed and engaged citizen in the digital age – whether you’re looking for a job, or for information on health issues or school scholarships,” said Alberto Ibargüen, president of Knight Foundation. “In communities, libraries are essential hubs for that access, and for the training to use it effectively.”

In addition to the communities mentioned above, Knight Foundation previously announced funding digital access projects in libraries in Aberdeen, S.D., Akron, Oh., Charlotte, N.C., Columbus, Ga., Detroit, Mi., Grand Forks, N.D., Lexington, Ky., Miami-Dade and Broward Counties, Fla., Milledgeville, Ga., Myrtle Beach, S.C., Tallahassee, Fla. and Wichita, Ks.

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

The John S. and James L. Knight Foundation advances journalism in the digital age and invests in the vitality of communities where the Knight brothers owned newspapers. Knight Foundation focuses on projects that promote community engagement and lead to transformational change. For more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.

Contact: Marc Fest, Knight Foundation, 305-908-2677; fest@knightfoundation.org

About the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation

Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.