After conducting its initial analysis of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) National Broadband Plan, the American Library Association (ALA) supports several initiatives suggested in the plan, such as the National Digital Literacy Program and the modernization of the E-rate Program.
“Other proposals, including the Connect America Fund, Civic Engagement, and Training Teachers in Digital Literacy, are good concepts but call for additional measures to ensure the needs of all Americans — including vulnerable populations — are met,” said Dr. Alan S. Inouye, director of ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP).
National Digital Literacy Program
ALA enthusiastically supports the launch of this Program. Providing individuals with the guidance and training necessary to search, locate, obtain, and use all forms of information resources is central to the mission of libraries. And libraries — whether school, public, academic, or otherwise — are already present in communities across America and are ideally situated to provide digital literacy training or to collaborate with other community organizations to provide such training. It would be very disappointing if the National Broadband Plan is successful in increasing broadband connectivity to some areas but does not train the people in those very areas in how to take advantage of that access.
The plan asks Congress to consider additional public funds to support this Program. Such funding is essential as otherwise we do not see how the program could succeed. Agencies such as the Institute of Museum and Library Services are already asked to do too much with too little. The budgets of state and local governments, libraries, and other community organizations are all severely strained by the economic downturn.
Modernizing the E-rate Program
The plan recognizes the important role that the E-rate program has played — and will continue to play — in supporting telecommunications and other services for schools and libraries and proposes to improve the program in multiple ways. ALA agrees with this assessment and direction. Schools and libraries need an efficient E-rate program that will continue to meet their needs in the face of ever-increasing broadband requirements and a continuing unfavorable economic climate.
The proper mechanism for developing program changes is through the Notice of Proposed Rulemaking (NPRM) process, and we look forward to participating in it. In particular, we recommend that the NPRMs on raising the cap, program simplification, and internal connections be issued as soon as possible.
Connect America Fund and Universal Service Reform
True information access for all Americans means that all households need to have broadband access. We are supportive of the concept of the Connect America Fund and expect to participate in the discussions to develop it. As broadband infrastructure is fully deployed to households in all communities across America, we suggest that libraries’ bandwidth should be upgraded to higher speed connections at the same time to maximize the government’s investment in moving the nation towards ubiquitous broadband access.
In addition to E-rate reforms and the Connect America Fund, ALA supports the plan’s proposed comprehensive review of other programs supported by the Universal Service Fund. For example, the proposal to transition the current High Cost program to provide more support for broadband service is definitely a step in the right direction.
Training Teachers in Digital Literacy
As discussed in the plan, teachers must be digitally literate if we expect to achieve digital literacy for students. A number of schools are already staffed with trained information professionals who are proficient with digital technologies — school librarians. We recommend to the U.S. Department of Education that new initiatives to train teachers on digital literacy should leverage the expertise of school librarians.
ALA applauds the plan’s focus on a more open and transparent government. The use of the Internet to provide government information and services certainly enhances access to the government — for those who have ready Internet access from their homes or workplaces.
However, access to government information and services is not as enhanced for those Americans without ready Internet access, especially for vulnerable populations. Many of these people come to libraries for broadband access and librarian assistance to enable them to obtain what they need from the government. While libraries are pleased to serve their communities in this way, librarians are also aware of the cost shifting to their institutions. ALA urges federal government officials involved in e-government to be cognizant of the full implications of changes in service delivery on their end users — and what resources may be allocated to libraries and other community organizations to provide the inevitable local “user support” that will be needed.
Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) Assessment
It is a tremendous opportunity to learn from the broadband investments made in the BTOP and Broadband Initiatives Program (BIP). In particular, we encourage that an assessment includes a review of outcomes across institutional contexts. In our case, we want to identify the lessons learned from library-based grants to inform future broadband investments in libraries.
ALA is continuing to consider the plan and so the issues identified above should not be construed to represent all of our interests.
“Indeed, the plan addresses many important policy issues such as privacy and anonymity, Internet safety, and digital copyright, among others,” said Dr. Inouye.
“The library community has significant ongoing involvement in these issues and we expect to weigh in on them in the coming weeks.”