libraries and broadbandAccording to the American Library Association (ALA), there are still 33 million U.S. households not using the Internet at Home, and almost two times as many households lacking the digital literacy skills needed to take full advantage of broadband access.  In the ALA’s newly published policy brief, the organization recommends national decision makers consider the role libraries can play by providing not only access, but the digital readiness training needed to take full advantage of broadband connectivity.

The organization advocates on behalf of America’s 120,000 libraries.  Their research indicates that almost 90% of libraries offer some form of digital literacy education, with 62% offering training related to new technology devices.  The ALA has also been an advocate for low-income Americans, rural residents, and populations that typically see less digital opportunity.

Many broadband advocates see libraries as a critical tool for solving access and adoption challenges.  In addition to schools, libraries are also eligible for federal E-rate Program funding, making them an ideal anchor institution for communities across the country.  Anchor institutions are publicly accessible locations that act as the first tenant in underserved communities.  Once connected, Internet Service Providers often deploy services to the rest of the community.

Libraries in particular make an ideal anchor tenant since they are equipped with technology and personnel to teach digital skills.  Unfortunately, many libraries lack the bandwidth needed to handle the amount of traffic they experience when residents in disconnected parts of the country rely on the local library to connect.  According to the ALA 40% of libraries subscribe to 10 Mbps or less, which isn’t sufficient when multiple users are connecting to do school work, apply for jobs, access online government services, or file taxes.

The Utah Broadband Outreach Center maintains a public access website that has a database of libraries and other locations that Utahns can use the Internet for free.

In addition to more traditional digital literacy courses, the ALA has found that over 50% over libraries teach online safety classes and social media use classes.  As the policy brief explains, “Digital literacy training boosts meaningful Internet use.”

In sum, the ALA recommends a few key takeaways for policy leaders:

  1. Libraries can do a lot to further meaningful broadband use by maximizing expert staff and tech infrastructure.
  2. Libraries and librarians can encourage home broadband adoption via skill development and training.
  3. Policymakers should promote investment and growth by freeing up spectrum frequencies for Wi-Fi and creating transparent rules for Wi-Fi designated spectrum.
  4. Continued E-rate modernization must be ensured.
  5. Strong open Internet is key to promoting the consumption of impartial information and free speech.

See the full ALA policy brief here:

http://www.ala.org/news/sites/ala.org.news/files/content/Broadband_11-08-16_0.pdf