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Kansas Rural Broadband Summit

Last Week, Representative Tom Sloan, of the Kansas legislature, convened a summit on issues affecting rural broadband deployment. Several telecom industry representatives, government officials and other stakeholders gathered in Lawrence, KS to discuss these critical issues. Several months ago, as a member of an Office for Information Technology Policy (OITP) site-visit team, I went to Kansas to research how to improve broadband to public libraries (PDF of the final report). As such, Representative Sloan extended an invitation to OITP. Excited by someone at the state level taking leadership (a key quality to have, according to our research), I gladly accepted.

The day opened with a panel on what small telecommunications & cable companies are doing to deploy broadband to their customers. The company representatives focused on deployment of DSL to customers (although one hinted at fiber to the home deployment), and the cable companies discussed their efforts to deploy via their cable systems(one small company offers up to 20 mbps to the home) and wireless technologies.

Other panels throughout the day included alternative looks at ways of providing broadband (satellite, an intra-state only network, a state government network and a new proposal from AT&T to the FCC for deployment of broadband). A panel of innovators discussed how they would use increased deployment of broadband, including tele-medicine, distanced education to teach children new languages and increased usage for emergency services.

Perhaps two of the most intriguing presentations of the day came from Administrator James Andrew, of the USDA Rural Utilities Service, and Commissioner Michael Copps, of the Federal Communications Commission. Both delivered messages about the importance of broadband to rural America. Administrator Andrew stressed that having broadband deployed to small cities is the equivalent of having a railroad depot or a large road; it ensures that the local economy can flourish, benefiting from the business provided by outside visitors. Commissioner Copps had a similar message, emphasizing that broadband deployment is important for global competitiveness and that broadband deployment should be the same in both urban and rural US.

Overall, the day featured excellent speakers and good discussion. The only thing missing from the day was discussion of libraries and broadband. Two speakers mentioned the topic; one spoke briefly about the offering of subsidies and the other referenced the topic provisionally.. As discovered by OITP research, policy makers and internet providers do not have an understanding of how the public uses the Internet in the library and the difficulties that libraries have in obtaining and sustaining affordable broadband. In order to serve the public, it’s important for librarians to emphasize these needs for broadband when discussing issues with their elected officials.

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Jacob Roberts is the communications specialist for the ALA Washington Office.

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