Libraries need affordable broadband because their patrons need it!

I couldn’t resist posting this article. Libraries are great equalizers. I know because I have spent my time on a Reference Desk. Libraries provide broadband where it’s most needed and at least as importantly – the librarians provide a guided tour to those who need it.

Public Knowledge reports/implores folks to consider the on the FCC’s proposal to cap the Universal Service Fund …

Libraries need quality, affordable broadband internet access to provide nearly all of their community services. While many branches lack such access, libraries in rural America have it particularly tough. Almost 20 million people lack access to adequate broadband service in rural areas, and nearly a third of rural Americans do not have access to broadband at home. While this digital divide affects everyone, it disproportionately impacts communities of color, particularly in rural areas. Libraries play a key role as “anchor institutions” in closing the rural broadband gap not only by providing direct internet access to those most affected, such as seniors and job seekers, but also by acting as a hub around which to extend additional broadband deployment to local residences and businesses. Traditionally, the Federal Communications Commission’s Universal Service Fund (USF) has funded broadband deployment to underserved areas. Unfortunately, despite 42% of libraries having internet speeds slower than 10Mbps, the Trump administration’s FCC has now proposed to implement a cap on the USF, which would curtail libraries’ ability to close the rural digital divide.

Bridging the digital divide can be accomplished in part by connecting anchor institutions like libraries together. A recent report by CTC Technology & Energy concluded that connecting anchor institutions would bring 95% of the U.S. population within the ZIP Code of an anchor’s broadband. The FCC’s current proposal to cap the USF is a step in the wrong direction as it risks underfunding certain programs like E-rate, which provides much-needed broadband subsidies for libraries and schools. Instead of jeopardizing the critical role libraries are playing in closing the digital divide, we should be empowering them.

Limiting the broadband deployment challenge to simply serving libraries and other anchor institutions could also prevent libraries from evolving their services fully into the digital age. Lack of broadband access in the home limits the benefit of the digital services libraries can offer to those who can afford the cost of in-home broadband connectivity. Just take a look at the long lines to use a computer in a public library today and you will see families and users who could benefit from hours of library services a day, instead of a rationed amount of digital media time based on the physical limitation of connecting in the library building. With universal access to high-speed broadband, libraries could transition resources to their digital archives and online services that can be accessed by more people through a decentralized internet instead of maintaining large banks of computers to meet the needs of every patron.

This entry was posted in Digital Divide by Ann Treacy. Bookmark the permalink.

About Ann Treacy

I have a Master’s Degree in Library and Information Science. I have been interested or involved in providing access to information through the Internet since 1994, when I worked for Minnesota’s first Internet service provider. I am pleased to be a part of the Blandin on Broadband Team. I also work with MN Coalition on Government Information, Minnesota Rural Partners, and the American Society for Information Science and Technology.

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