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Got E-Rate? Bridging the Broadband Divide with the E-Rate Program

by on March 20, 2015

Take a look at the “Got E-Rate?” page on the American Library Association website (http://www.ala.org/advocacy/goterate). Just a cursory glance at this site and you’ll learn about ALA’s initiative to have library leaders take advantage of opportunities that will allow them to expand broadband width in their libraries through the E-Rate program.

The E-Rate program is built to “help libraries gain affordable, high capacity broadband. . . ; boost library participation in the program; and increase the efficiency of the application and review process” for eligible libraries. Furthermore, the “Got E-Rate?” page lists information about the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) reforms of the E-Rate programs and what this means to libraries, particularly public libraries. The page has a lot of information that may or may not be difficult for you to decipher, so I recommend taking a look at “Library Leaders: E-Rate Opportunities Take Center Stage” by Marijke Visser.

Visser breaks down the main take-aways of the E-Rate program with these points:

  1. About $1.5 billion has been added to the funding for the E-Rate program
  2. The American Library Association, Public Library Association, state library agencies, and other organizations will produce E-rate resources that are aimed to provide libraries that are interested in applying for E-rate funding with “communications, education, practical tools, and technical support.”
  3. Increasing broadband capacity is not simply for rural libraries, but also applies to suburban and urban libraries that may need to expand their services.

After reading both of these articles, I had a few initial thoughts:

  1. As a librarian, I am (typically) aware and/or reminded of the digital divide in communities. Connecting and working with librarians throughout the state and nation has exposed me to the different resources available (or unavailable) to public libraries and the disparities between communities. However…
  2. …as an individual, I tend to forget about things like the “digital divide.” This is easy to do when I’m in my own little world, streaming music from my iPhone on my way to work, and watching Netflix on Apple TV at home. But…
  3. ..the digital divide is real. Just take a look at the statistics, “How Americans Go Online” published by Pew Research Center’s Internet and American Library Project. The graph shows the correlation between lower income and education levels with lower access to Internet usage at home and in general. Race and geographic location affect the result.

The Internet is a necessity for not just checking email or research, but also for applying for jobs, learning new technological skills, and gaining confidence. If a person is unable to have broadband access at home, it is all the more imperative that their local library have sufficient access to not only bridge the gap in the digital divide, but also in digital literacy. What are your experiences with broadband access in your community?

Sources

“Got E-rate?” Got E-rate? Web. 22 Feb. 2015. http://www.ala.org/advocacy/goterate

“Library Leaders: E-rate Opportunities Take Center Stage.” District Dispatch. 28 Jan. 2015. Web. 1 Mar. 2015. http://www.districtdispatch.org/2015/01/library-leaders-e-rate-opportunities-take-center-stage

“How Americans Go Online.” Pew Research Centers Internet American Life Project RSS. 24 Sept. 2013. Web. 24 Feb. 2015. <http://www.pewinternet.org/2013/09/25/how-americans-go-online/>.


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