While it’s a tradition that many top administration posts will turn over in a president’s second term, the American Library Association (ALA) is sorry to hear that FCC Chairman Julius Genachowski will step down (pdf) in the coming weeks. From the National Broadband Plan to Universal Service Fund reform to digital literacy, the Chairman, FCC Commissioners and FCC staff have engaged ALA and libraries in a wide range of important proceedings. Among the most significant highlights are the Chairman’s work around E-rate reforms, broadband adoption, and network neutrality.
Most recently, Chairman Genachowski sent video greetings to attendees at the 2013 ALA Midwinter Meeting in Seattle. In the video (below), he thanks librarians for their vital role in supporting digital literacy. The ALA and the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS) have worked closely with the FCC to support broadband adoption—with a focus on digital literacy training through our nation’s 16,400 public library locations.
“The digital divide has an impact on every aspect of society: our economy, education, health care, and civic engagement,” said ALA President Maureen Sullivan. “The ALA is proud to work with the FCC, IMLS and others to support our state and local libraries in making sure everyone in our communities can fully participate in the digital age.”
Last week, Connect2Compete and the Ad Council launched EveryoneOn—a three-year national campaign to empower people by giving them the tools and confidence they need to improve their lives through the Internet. Worcester (Mass.) Public Library and St. Paul Public Library were among the libraries that helped launch the effort (and shared their photos!) on 3.21.13. The journey to this launch stretches back to the FCC’s announcement of the Connect2Compete public-private partnership, which included IMLS, in October 2011.
“From the time of the National Broadband Plan, Chairman Genachowski has highlighted the need for broadband adoption as well as access as a national priority,” said Larra Clark, director of the ALA Program on Networks. “Through the bully pulpit and the Public-Private Initiative on Broadband, he has recognized and worked to address the barriers to broadband adoption, including digital literacy, relevancy and cost.”
The Chairman spearheaded the first National Broadband Plan, which recently marked its third anniversary and serves as the foundation for much of the FCC’s work since its release. The ALA appreciated the opportunity to work with FCC staff to provide input into the plan’s development, and support research related to broadband adoption in low-income communities. (The ALA District Dispatch provides an ongoing archive of blog posts related to the broadband plan.)
Even more ambitiously, Chairman Genachowski undertook network neutrality and reform of the Universal Service Fund, which touched on each of the four programs that make up the fund, including E-rate. As part of E-rate modernization in fall 2010, the FCC simplified the application process, increased the cap slightly by indexing it to inflation, and expanded access to low-cost fiber—all changes that benefit libraries and schools. The E-rate program has played a pivotal role in helping libraries connect their users to the Internet, and it continues to be a critical program for supporting library connectivity and information service needs.
The FCC also negotiated a difficult decision on network neutrality that protects the openness of wired broadband networks. An open and neutral Internet is necessary to ensure that the public’s
access to library content and services will receive the same priority as their access to entertainment and other commercial offerings. Congressional challenges to overturn the Open Internet Order were unsuccessful, but a legal challenge from Verizon/MetroPCS will be heard in the D.C. Circuit Court of Appeals sometime this year.
“ALA thanks Chairman Genachowski for his leadership on these issues of vital importance to libraries and the communities we serve,” Clark added. “As with any policy engagement, we didn’t get everything we wanted from every conversation, but, under Genachowski, the FCC actively sought out ALA and libraries as part of the solution to many of the challenges this country faces in ensuring digital opportunity through broadband access and adoption.”
On behalf of America’s libraries, we wish Chairman Genachowski the very best in his future endeavors—and hope they include libraries and our mission to improve the public’s access to information and technology.