CHARLESTON, W.Va. – Sens. Joe Manchin, D–W.Va., and Susan Collins, R–Maine, plan to introduce the bipartisan Hotspots and Online Technology and Services Procurement for our Tribes and States (HOTSPOTS) Act during the next senate session.

The HOTSPOTS Act would create a 2-year, $160 million hotspot pilot program, with a minimum allotment of $1.6 million per state, to allow states, tribes and territories to purchase and distribute internet-connected devices to libraries in low-income and rural areas, according to a press release.

“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. 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.”

Sen. Manchin
Chairman Susan M. Collins

“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. 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.”

Sen. Collins

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, the senators said. Local libraries are often the only source of free WiFi 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.