Arts Council England has allocated £2.6m worth of funding to 68 local authorities in a bid to furnish 98% of libraries in England with "free, good quality" wi-fi by March 2016.
ACE, on behalf of the department for culture, media and sport (DCMS), will deliver a one-off funding programme to enable all libraries in England to provide free, accessible wi-fi for their users.
The organisation said an estimate 16% of households do not have access to the internet. The funding will enable over 1,000 libraries to either provide wi-fi for the first time, or to upgrade their current provision to make it faster and more easily accessible.
A spokesperson for ACE said: “We recognise the importance of safeguarding a service that is fit for purpose now and in the future. This includes promotion of increased usage of libraries, improved engagement of users and tackling digital exclusion.”
Culture minister Ed Vaizey added: “It is a vital step to ensuring that all public libraries can provide wi-fi access to their communities. As more services become available online, this will increasingly make libraries the place to go for people who don’t have the access or the confidence to use digital services.
“Libraries are already supporting a wide range of online services, from applying for jobs to local information. This is a significant milestone in the on-going work of the Leadership for Libraries Taskforce to help libraries grow and modernise.”
Earlier this year, it was reported that the government would provide £7.4m to furnish England's public libraries with wi-fi. However, Arts Council England told The Bookseller the initial budget for the fund was based on a survey into wi-fi provision carried out by DCMS in January and February 2015. It said: "By the time the funding programme launched in July 2015 a number of local authorities had installed their own solutions and over 300 additional libraries were providing free access to wi-fi.
"In addition, the actual cost of installations agreed by local authorities who applied for both new installation and upgrades has been less than the estimated costs provided by government. This reflects the requirement for applications to demonstrate value for money."
The wi-fi in public libraries in England fund was set up following William Sieghart’s independent report on libraries and is an early priority for the Libraries Task Force.