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Library broadband access key to transforming communities

Speaking at a recent Washington, D.C., forum on the importance of broadband to all communities, particularly rural, Senator John Boozman (R-AR) reflected that “libraries are on the front lines” of broadband access. He went on, speaking at the Transforming Communities: Broadband Goals for 2017 and Beyond event, to describe the critical role libraries play in serving communities by offering Internet access, supporting entrepreneurship, job seeking, educational opportunities and so much more. You can watch the event in its entirety here:

Senator Boozman was a keynote speaker at Transforming Communities: Broadband Goals for 2017 and Beyond hosted by Next Century Cities; the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition; and U.S. Ignite. Senator Boozman was joined by colleagues representing multiple political viewpoints, but with the same message: expanding access to broadband – including to community anchor institutions such as libraries – should be a priority of the Trump Administration in 2017 and beyond.

Senator Amy Klobuchar (D-MN) noted later that, “everyone, from the farmers in rural Minnesota to those in our towns and cities, must be able to log on and participate in this new digital economy.” Senator Angus King (I-ME) added, “High-speed broadband will enable people across the country, regardless of whether they live in rural Maine or New York City, to realize unprecedented economic, educational and cultural opportunities.”

While there was virtual unanimity on why broadband access should be expanded, a panel featuring local leaders, including Carrie Coogan, Kansas City Public Library’s deputy director of Public Affairs, delved into specific local initiatives that highlighted how communities are working collaboratively to get people online and reaping the benefits of access. Coogan, joined by Chattanooga, TN, Mayor Andy Berke; Ammon, ID, Mayor Dana Kirkham; Superintendent of Baltimore County Public Schools Dr. S. Dallas Dance; and CEO of Colorado Telehealth Network Ed Bostick, described the compelling work the Kansas City Public Library is doing with the Kansas City Coalition for Digital Inclusion.

Coogan described a situation in which the Kansas City Public Schools launched a 1:1 device program for students, who were given a device to use during the day, and then encouraged to take the device home and use it for homework at night. But around 70 percent of the families in the district did not have internet at home, rendering the devices almost useless. To address the gap, the public library launched a “Hotspots for Learning” program through which families can check out an internet hotspot for students to connect at home. Other community partners like “Connections for Good” also provide digital literacy training and literacy services for caregivers and students. Throughout Kansas City, a diverse set of stakeholders are working together to make sure families have what they need to get online and to get the most out of it.

So how do we replicate the success of the Kansas City Public Library and its partners, and will the incoming Administration and new Congress support these efforts? What about state policymakers and mayors? And what should practitioners do? These are open questions without easy answers. But undoubtedly, libraries can and should play an important role in developing and implementing solutions. Specifically, panelists and speakers noted, library professionals can join and help organize stakeholders and share stories of digital exclusion and inclusion in their own communities. These diverse coalitions can lead to real action at the local level and beyond.

Watch the whole program here.

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Ellen Satterwhite

Ellen Satterwhite a Washington Office Policy Fellow and Vice President of the Glen Echo Group. She has years of experience at the intersection of technology and policy, including as a co-author of the FCC’s National Broadband Plan and as Consumer Policy Advisor to the Commission. Satterwhite earned a Master’s in Public Affairs from the LBJ School of Public Affairs at the University of Texas at Austin.

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