On Monday the inter-agency Broadband Opportunity Council (BOC) released its report and recommendations on actions the federal government can take to improve broadband networks and bring broadband to more Americans. Twenty-five agencies, departments and offices took part in the Council, which also took public comments from groups like the ALA.
The wide-ranging effort opened the door to address outdated program rules as well as think bigger and more systemically about how to more efficiently build and maximize more robust broadband networks.
Here are six things that struck me in reading and hearing from other local, state and national stakeholders during a White House roundtable in which ALA participated earlier this week:
- It’s a big deal. The report looks across the federal government through a single lens of what opportunities for and barriers to broadband exist that it may address. Council members (including from the Institute of Museum and Library Services) met weekly, developed and contributed action plans, and approved the substance of the report. That’s a big job—and one that points to the growing understanding that a networked world demands networked solutions. Broadband (fixed and mobile) is everyone’s business, and this report hopefully begins the process of institutionalizing attention to broadband across sectors.
- It’s still a report…a first step toward action. There’s no new money, but some action items will increase access to federal programs valued at $10 billion to support broadband deployment and adoption. The US Department of Agriculture (USDA), for instance, will develop and promote new funding guidance making broadband projects eligible for the Rural Development Community Facility Program and will expand broadband eligibility for the RUS Telecommunications Program. Both of these changes could benefit rural libraries.
- It’s a roadmap. Because the report outlines who will do what and when, it provides a path to consider next steps. Options range from taking advantage of new resources to advising on new broadband research to increasing awareness of new opportunities among community partners and residents.
- “Promote adoption and meaningful use” is a key principle. ALA argued that broadband deployment and adoption should be “married” to drive digital opportunity, and libraries can and should be leveraged to empower and engage communities. Among the actions here is that the General Services Administration (GSA) will modernize government donation, excess and surplus programs to make devices available to schools, libraries and educational non-profits through the Computers for Learning program, and the Small Business Administration (SBA) will develop and deploy new digital empowerment training for small businesses.
- IMLS is called out. It is implicated in seven action items, and the lead on two related to funding projects that will provide libraries with tools to assess and manage broadband networks and expanding technical support for E-rate-funded public library Wi-Fi and connectivity expansions. IMLS also will work with the National Science Foundation and others to develop a national broadband research agenda. The activity includes review existing research and resources and considering possible research questions related to innovation, adoption and impacts (to name a few).
- A community connectivity index is in the offing. It is intended to help community leaders understand where their strengths lie and where they need to improve, and to promote innovative community policies and programs. I can think of a few digital inclusion indicators for consideration—how about you?
National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) Chief Lawrence Strickling noted that the report is “greater than the sum of its parts” in that it increased awareness of broadband issues across the government and brought together diverse stakeholders for input and action. I agree and am glad the Council built on the impactful work already completed through NTIA’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP). As with libraries and the Policy Revolution! initiative, we must play to our strengths, but also think differently and more holistically to create meaningful change. It’s now up to all of us to decide what to do next to advance digital opportunity.