Launched in February of this year, the bipartisan Congressional Rural Broadband Caucus was founded “to facilitate discussion, educate Members of Congress and develop policy solutions to close the digital divide in rural America.”At its most recent meeting, Marijke Visser of the ALA’s Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP) and co-panelists from the public and private sectors briefed the Caucus, congressional staff and a general audience at a public session entitled “Strengthening Rural Economics through Broadband Deployment.”
Her presentation highlighted that libraries currently play a pivotal role in providing broadband access in rural communities, addressing the “E’s of Libraries®”across the country: employment and entrepreneurship, education, individual empowerment, and civic engagement. Noting broadly that “Libraries
strengthen local economies through supporting small business development and entrepreneurship,”Marijke went on to provide specific examples of how libraries have helped small businesses develop business plans, conduct market research, foster employee certification, use 3D printers, and even use library software programs to design and print creative menus for a restaurant.
She also spotlighted the growing importance of video conferencing availability to rural residents and communities, telling of how a new mother in Alaska received needed healthcare training via video conference at her local public library, thus avoiding a lengthy trip to Seattle, and how a business in Texas was able to secure a contract by using video conferencing through a local public library to expedite OSHA certification of 40 workers.
Marijke also emphasized that today’s libraries clearly are much more than book-lending facilities and places for children’s story time; they are one-stop community hubs, replete with maker spaces, digital production studios, video-conferencing capacity and more. In response to questions from Congressional staff, Marijke also highlighted various services libraries provide to veterans, including resume building, job application assistance, benefit application filing, and financial literacy training.
Marijke and her fellow panelists were welcomed to the Caucus’ meeting by Committee Co-Chairs Reps. Kevin Cramer (R-ND), and Mark Pocan (D-WI2), and Rep. Dave Loebsack (D-IA2). Membership in the Caucus currently stands at 34 Representatives. Its mission, as explained upon its launch by Rep. Bob Latta (R-OH5), is to “bring greater attention to the need for high-speed broadband in rural America, and help encourage and spur innovative solutions to address this growing consumer demand.”
ALA thanks the Caucus for the opportunity to participate in its event, and both the Office of Government Relations and OITP look forward to continuing to work with its members to boost broadband capacity in libraries and homes across rural America.