The American Library Association (ALA) submitted a filing to the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) yesterday in response to its call for comments regarding improving communications services for native nations. The filing was submitted in consultation with the American Indian Library Association (AILA), an affiliate of ALA that serves native communities from Alaska to Hawaii and across the contiguous United States.
The ALA supports the FCC’s efforts to improve access to and utilization of high-capacity broadband across the nation and stressed that in the case of broadband and native nations, it is vitally important to aggressively address the vast digital divide that exists between native nations and the rest of the country.
In doing so, ALA reminds the Commission that physical access to broadband is but one part of the equation. It is equally important to address specific barriers to adoption, such as the lack of digital literacy skills necessary for individuals to make productive use of the resources made available via a broadband connection. Barriers to broadband adoption on tribal lands far exceed barriers that non-tribal communities face.
Libraries also play a fundamental role in supporting high-capacity broadband build-out in their communities. Found in virtually every community across the country, libraries serve all people regardless of the age, race, ethnicity, income, or education of the individual needing information services. Libraries also serve vulnerable populations, such as people with disabilities, the elderly, low-income populations, non-English speakers, and others.
The ALA made the following suggestions to the FCC for the development of a grant program for specific projects targeted at broadband deployment and adoption:
- Develop a clear and streamlined application process.
- Allow for sufficient beta testing of an online application process.
- Provide significant lead time between announcement of the call for proposals, the opening of the application process, and the final deadline.
- Recommend an adequate budget so that administrative and oversight costs of the grants are accounted for.
- Establish clear reporting requirements.
- Coordinate with other federal agencies that applicants may already have grants with to ensure respective program requirements do not conflict.
- Consider the practicality of a match requirement for libraries and other anchor institutions that have very limited ability to raise such funding.
- Consider weighing in-kind contributions on par with a cash match.
- Focus a sufficient percentage of the grant funds on a program that increases the capacity of anchor institutions that serve as Internet and computer access points similar to BTOP’s Public Computing Center Program.
- Encourage applications that include a significant digital literacy and training component.