How fast is your library’s internet (really)?

Last Friday, the Federal Communications Commission approved its first E-rate Order as part of its modernization proceeding.

But the work is far from over. The FCC also seeks additional data and public comment to inform its next steps in E-rate modernization.

As part of its ongoing advocacy, the ALA and other national library partners will gather new data this month to gauge the quality of public access to the internet in our nation’s public libraries. The effort is funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Services (IMLS), and is supported by the Association of Rural and Small Libraries, the Chief Officers of State Library Agencies, the Public Library Association, and the Urban Libraries Council.

The broadband speed test will measure the actual internet speeds delivered to desktops, laptops and mobile devices in public library buildings. Gathering information on the actual speeds to the device will help better describe and improve the library patron experience using library wired and wireless networks. The resulting data—needed from libraries of all sizes in all 50 states—will aid the library community in advocating for adequate E-rate funding for libraries. All participating libraries also will receive their local speed data.

“Strong Wi-Fi and internal broadband connections in libraries and schools are necessary to support individualized learning. We need to better understand this issue from a ‘front-line’ context,” said IMLS Director Susan H. Hildreth. “I hope we will have broad library participation in this effort so that policy decisions will be well informed and can accommodate future broadband needs of library customers.”

Please help us spread the word! Public libraries can log on to the speed test at: digitalinclusion.pnmi.com/speedtest.

Posted in E-Rate, Telecommunications Tagged with: , ,

E-rate modernization: Take a breath, now back to work

July 11, the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted in a 3-2 vote along party lines to move forward on the next phase of the E-rate Modernization proceeding. The resulting E-rate Report and Order, not yet publicly released, will focus on making Wi-Fi support available to more libraries and schools, streamlining the application and administration of the program, and ensuring the program is cost-effective and efficient to make E-rate dollars go further.

In the final weeks before the Commission vote, ALA invested significant time to make a final play for addressing library issues in the draft order circulated by the Chairman. Through phone calls and emails with the Chairman’s staff and the legal advisors to the Commissioners as well as in-person meetings (logging 12 ex parte filings in the last week of the public comment period alone) we responded directly to questions about our most important issues and further explained the rationale for the positions we have taken. Most notable and described in detail below, is the collaboration between the Association for Rural & Small Libraries (ARSL), the Chief Officers of State Library Agencies (COSLA), the Public Library Association (PLA), and the Urban Libraries Council (ULC); the adoption by the Commission of ALA’s formula proposal; and the video of the FCC Chairman speaking on libraries and E-rate for ALA’s Annual Conference.

E-rate and #alaac14

lv_lib

A Las Vegas-Clark County library Gigi Sohn visited during #alaac14

We headed into Annual Conference on the heels of a packed week of Commission meetings, calls, emails, and more meetings. We secured a “feature-length” video of the Chairman speaking for and on behalf of libraries and their important contributions in the E-rate proceeding. And, in person, Gigi Sohn, Special Counsel for External Affairs to Chairman Wheeler, met informally with PLA leadership, representatives from COSLA, ARSL, the OITP Advisory Committee, and the ALA E-rate task force to talk E-rate details and the nature of library services in today’s and tomorrow’s libraries. In addition to these meetings, Gigi took a field trip to the main library and one of the smaller branches of the Las Vegas-Clark County Library District where we saw a model of what libraries can offer their communities. The experience exposed Gigi to an example of the depth libraries go to understand their demographics (in very specific granularity) and through that, the needs of the communities they serve to truly become the learning hub for the community.

A significant outcome from Annual, and in no small part due to the meetings with Gigi, was the impetus to bring together the library E-rate community in the final advocacy stages to call for swift action on the part of the Commission to move its first step proposal forward. On the last day of public comment before the vote, ALA, ARSL, COSLA, PLA, and ULC filed a joint letter (pdf) supporting this first step in the E-rate modernization process.

E-rate and the tricky business of square footage formulas

Prior to and after Annual, OITP continued its in-depth review of the cost data for Wi-Fi and related services we had gathered from state libraries, library systems, and individual libraries. While many were celebrating a long Fourth of July weekend with picnics and fireworks, the OITP E-rate team made the weekend even longer, . Our team spent the weekend reviewing recently-gathered information in addition to our previous cost analysis to model whether the Commission $1.00 and 6000 floor square foot formula would adequately address library Wi-Fi needs.

We compared itemized lists of equipment and services libraries purchased to support their Wi-Fi and internal connections. We also further studied the potential impact of the proposed Commission library formula for Wi-Fi and related services (the former Priority 2 bucket and the new Category 2) on library applicants. In addition to the data we collected, we consulted with the library organizations that filed the joint letter, who turned to their member leaders for feedback.

In coming to a formula proposal (i.e., $2.30 per square foot or a floor for libraries at or below 4000 square feet of $9,200—over a five year period), we were careful to take into account the fact that a “library formula” must at once be robust and defensible and account for the needs of the smallest to the largest library applicants. A formula is fundamentally different than the historical, solely needs-based funding model for the E-rate program. By its nature, a formula will not provide all of each applicant’s needs. It is a recognition that the Commission must work within an imperfect system and that distributing Wi-Fi funding equitably to as many libraries (and schools) as possible is a positive change to the long-term lack of such funding to any libraries.

E-rate and the near future

The now Order and Further Notice of Proposed Rulemaking adopted by the Commission on Friday will address a significant shortfall for libraries and schools and seeks to close the “Wi-Fi gap” as well as simplify the administration and application processes, and maximize the cost effectiveness of the program. After long hours of negotiating with Commission staff, we are gratified to learn that ALA’s proposal for the per-square-foot library formula has been adopted. Though the Order is not public as of this writing, we understand that a number of ALA’s other proposals are included in some fashion (refer to the Fact Sheet summarizing the content of the Order). Significantly, we learned the Commission’s continued commitment to addressing the connectivity gap (i.e., the lack of high-capacity broadband to the majority of the nation’s libraries) is part of its continued review of the E-rate program.

In addition to the Order, as part of its 11th hour negotiations, the Commission elected to call for further public input to address the long-term funding issues that have plagued the program, and a call to revisit the new per pupil and per square foot allocation model for Wi-Fi (Category 2) funds as well as outstanding issues that are not folded into the Order. We will weigh in on this important addendum to the process because, as Commissioner Clyburn noted in her statement, (pdf) “Our work is not done and we will continue to contemplate how to close these gaps and ensure that all schools and libraries have affordable access to the connectivity to and within their buildings.”

We expect that the Commission will release the Order and FNPRM this week, at which time a number of us in the Washington Office will hit the print button so we can read and digest what we hear is 158 pages. We will provide a summary and are planning outreach to the library community. We anticipate USAC will be providing in-depth outreach and we are also talking to Commission staff to develop some library specific outreach materials. More to come!

Posted in E-Rate, Library Advocacy, OITP, Public Libraries, School Libraries, Telecommunications Tagged with: , ,

Stories live in libraries, but how to share them?

A lot has happened in my first month as a Google Policy Fellow at the American Library Association (ALA), where today I am formally launching a digital storytelling project called Living Stories, Living Libraries. The blog relies on photo documentary-style submissions to capture the diverse stories of people using libraries. It gives individuals a place to share how libraries have impacted their lives, hear from others, connect ideas, and provides a space for you to tell your own story.

Social media, and the ubiquity of mobile internet access and mobile photography allows for the unprecedented ease of online storytelling. At present, library information shared through social media is largely conducted in editorial format. Living Stories, Living Libraries is based on the belief that libraries could benefit in advocacy and visibility-raising through the more personal approach of letting individual librarians and users document and promote their unique experiences with the library. Currently, the twitter handle #futureoflibraries allows library patrons and librarians to tweet what they would like to see in libraries of the future. One telling example includes “Libraries could be doing more to tell the story of how much they’ve changed- eg. adapting to the digital ecology.”

And I learned two important things: libraries are unsung liberators, and everyone in a library has a story.

As institutions, libraries are increasingly going beyond providing information and knowledge, and are actually producing information and enabling creation. The new role of the library is becoming ever more important as we shift to a knowledge-based economy that relies on digital skills and innovation. Libraries are changing in many future-forward ways, from providing 3-D printing and teaching coding to acting as publishers, but unfortunately research shows the majority of people are only aware of a small portion of the resources libraries offer. Libraries represent public innovation spaces that fill vital needs in access to opportunities, skills, knowledge, and creative space. But what is the best way to show their growing value?

The idea for this project began to take shape a year ago when I became increasingly frustrated in my international affairs studies with the existing narratives and problematic approaches to international development. I took refuge in the library, which seemed to me the only truly humanitarian institution that helps all people, without any ulterior motive, and I started looking at libraries as drivers of community development. At this point, a bout of madness overtook me and I decided to write a thesis around the topic. I traveled across rural Romania on a grant, interviewing librarians and patrons about how Internet access through the library impacted their communities. And I learned two important things: libraries are unsung liberators, and everyone in a library has a story.

I realized that the library has an underused opportunity to further connect, share, and create a wider community freely and simply through social media.

I wanted to find a way to collect the stories people told me about how the library has made differences great and small in their lives. More than that, I wanted to share them in an accessible, human way, because the stories themselves reflected a stunning humanity. Across diverse cultures and communities, libraries fill needs as unique as the people who use them. From a grandmother who spoke to her American-born grandson for the first time on Skype at the library, to a woman who turned to the library to understand cancer treatments when a family member was diagnosed, stories reflected the multitudinous and vital needs for quality access to information and technology.

Since my undergraduate thesis is not about to make the New York Times bestsellers list, the chances of someone finding these stories are unfortunately pretty slim. Instead, I decided to create a blog site in collaboration with ALA where library users and librarians can openly post their own unique stories. While conducting research, I realized that the library has an underused opportunity to further connect, share, and create a wider community freely and simply through social media. The goals of this blog are to:

  1. Interact: Use the social media format to build trust and mirror the personal interaction we value in libraries-real people telling real stories
  2. Show: Promote the image of libraries as vibrant community centers that fill a variety of roles
  3. Share: Allow librarians to get ideas from this blog, to see what other libraries are offering, and to share their own successes using the #librariesinthewild tag
  4. Advocate: to share stories with policymakers for library advocacy at both the local and national level
  5. Grow: to create new library users by reaching people on social media and showing powerful, short, easy to consume human stories of impact

More than anything else, stories about other people and their lives capture our attention—the success and popularity of social media in starting movements and developing identities makes that clear. This blog is designed to capture meaningful stories and gives voice to all those who have been impacted by the library. It also presents a space to illustrate all of the innovative new roles libraries fill. The project is licensed under Creative Commons, and I encourage anyone to share and adapt its content for any non-commercial advocacy and awareness-raising purposes. My hope is that Living Stories, Living Libraries will provide a useful tool to create an online community and to keep libraries as prominent providers of free and equal access to information and new digital opportunities.

I invite you now to follow the blog, to share the project widely with colleagues and friends, and tell your own story. Please feel free to reach out to me if you or your library would like to be involved, mkavaras [at] alawash [dot] org.

Posted in Library Advocacy, Public Libraries, Washington Office News

Possible amendment damaging to E-rate is expected soon.

The ALA Washington Office just got off a conference call with House Democratic Leadership regarding a possible amendment to the House Financial Services Appropriations bill that would limit the Federal Communication Commission’s (FCC) ability to increase funds to the Federal E-rate program. We expect a possible amendment to be voted on the House floor sometime within the next 48 to 72 hours.

Please call your U.S. Representative today and encourage him or her not to support any amendment that would thwart the FCC’s ability to increase funds to the Federal E-rate program.

The E-rate program is part of the Universal Service Fund, which is overseen by the FCC. Through this program, libraries and schools receive discounts on telecommunications services including high capacity broadband.

More information on this amendment will be posted on District Dispatch as it becomes available.

Posted in E-Rate, Legislation, Library Advocacy

Higher education, library groups release net neutrality principles

Today, higher education and library organizations representing thousands of colleges, universities, and libraries nationwide released a joint set of Net Neutrality Principles they recommend form the basis of an upcoming Federal Communications Commission (FCC) decision to protect the openness of the Internet. The groups believe network neutrality protections are essential to protecting freedom of speech, educational achievement, and economic growth. The organizations endorsing these principles are:

  • American Association of Community Colleges (AACC)
  • American Association of State Colleges and Universities (AASCU)
  • American Council on Education (ACE)
  • American Library Association (ALA)
  • Association of American Universities (AAU)
  • Association of Public and Land-grant Universities (APLU)
  • Association of Research Libraries (ARL)
  • Chief Officers of State Library Agencies (COSLA)
  • EDUCAUSE
  • Modern Language Association (MLA)
  • National Association of Independent Colleges and Universities (NAICU)

Libraries and institutions of higher education are leaders in creating, fostering, using, extending, and maximizing the potential of the Internet for research, education, and the public good. These groups are extremely concerned that the recent court decision vacating two of the key “open Internet” rules creates an opportunity for Internet providers to block or degrade (e.g., arbitrarily slow) certain Internet traffic, or prioritize certain services, while relegating public interest services to the “slow lane.”

“America’s libraries collect, create, and disseminate essential information to the public over the Internet, and enable our users to create and distribute their own digital content and applications,” said American Library Association President Courtney Young in a statement. “Network neutrality is essential to ensuring open and nondiscriminatory access to Internet content and services for all. The American Library Association is proud to stand with other education and learning organizations in outlining core principles for preserving the open Internet as a vital platform for free speech, innovation, and civic engagement.”

Moving forward, the American Library Association will continue to advocate for an open Internet next week, when the organization comments on the FCC’s Notice of Proposed Rulemaking.

Posted in Network Neutrality, OITP Tagged with: , , , ,

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