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Abstract

The ongoing debate on the “digital divide” is centered on improving Internet home-access penetration rates through two instruments, price subsidies and capital subsidies. Subsidizing home access can be expensive and difficult because of the inherent difficulty of identifying target households. Increasing the availability of public access terminals instead can be an effective way for achieving universal access. The analysis of this article considers public libraries because of their national reach and existing Internet service offerings to users. It finds strong evidence of a need-based use of access facilities at these libraries, and also identifies a clear increasing trend in visits over time by patrons for getting online. Upgrading and maintaining these facilities would be a better use of funds than indiscriminately providing subsidies to households.