The American Library Association’s (ALA) Washington Office hosted senior policymakers, librarians and telecommunications experts from across the nation for a National Library Week luncheon panel to discuss broadband in Tribal and rural libraries on Thursday, April 12, in the U.S. Capitol Building.
The panel, moderated by National Museum of the American Indian Librarian Elayne Silversmith, focused on how broadband connectivity and telecommunications infrastructure in Tribal and rural regions advances education, provides economic opportunity and can close the digital divide. Panelists included Cynthia Aguilar, Librarian, Santo Domingo Pueblo, New Mexico; Hannah Buckland, ALA Policy Corps member and Director of Library Services, Leech Lake Tribal College (Minn.); Irene Flannery, Director of AMERIND Critical Infrastructure; and Kelly Wismer, Public Relations Manager at NTCA – The Rural Broadband Association.
Tribal librarian Cynthia Aguilar explained that establishing adequate broadband infrastructure will be as life-changing for her community as the introduction of the railroad. Aguilar was quoted in The Washington Post article: “Once the fiber optics are lit, it will be black and white. It will be so spectacular.”
The panel discussion was bookended by keynote speeches from Senator Martin Heinrich (D-NM) and Federal Communications Commissioner (FCC) Mignon Clyburn, with ALA President Jim Neal emceeing the event.
Senator Heinrich’s opening remarks highlighted the Tribal Connect Act of 2017 (S.2205), a bipartisan bill he introduced with U.S. Senator Dean Heller (R-NV) to improve broadband infrastructure and connectivity in Native American communities.
“I’m pleased to partner with the American Library Association to convene this important discussion on closing the digital divide in Indian Country and continue building the momentum for the Tribal Connect Act,” said Senator Heinrich. “The Tribal Connect Act is an investment in broadband infrastructure and high-speed internet access in Indian Country so all of our students and children can compete on an even playing field and learn the skills they need to succeed in the 21st century. Connecting more Tribes to the E-rate program will strengthen broadband across rural New Mexico and improve education, boost the economy and increase public safety and civic engagement.”
ALA President Jim Neal emphasized the Association’s support of the bill and commitment to its members in tribal and rural communities. “For many people in Tribal and rural areas, the lack of high-speed internet access means that competing in today’s economy is a steep climb and becoming steeper. Improving access to the E-rate program is a strong start toward improving high-speed internet access to the least connected people in America. The American Library Association wholeheartedly supports the Tribal Connect Act and looks forward to advocating for its passage.”
The Tribal Connect Act is supported by ALA; the National Congress of American Indians; National Indian Education Association; AMERIND Risk; and the Association of Tribal Archives, Libraries and Museums.
Commissioner Clyburn delivered closing remarks. “As a longtime champion for the FCC’s E-rate program and a daughter of a retired librarian, I believe that robust broadband connectivity at community anchor institutions, such as schools and libraries, helps to level the playing field. For those without home service, access to the information, resources and services needed to thrive in an increasingly digitally dependent society can be a game-changer that generates and enables sustainable social and economic growth.”