Community Anchor Institutions and Residential Broadband Adoption
The Internet is driving innovation in community and economic development, education, health care, and government services. But residential broadband adoption1 has stalled. Community anchor institutions (CAIs) are improving residential broadband adoption in several ways: providing digital literacy training, educating consumers about government programs to promote broadband adoption, leading community planning efforts, lending wireless “hot spots,” and, in some cases, providing wireless broadband services directly to consumers. For these efforts to have the greatest impact, however, policymakers must provide CAIs and their community partners with the right resources and incentives. Solutions should be locally customized to meet the needs of specific populations.
CAI s are Working to Increase Broadband Access and Adoption
Community anchor institutions are addressing broadband access and adoption gaps in many ways. Communities, led by their anchor institutions, are often engaged in broadband planning to achieve digital inclusion. For instance, the Kansas City Public Library (KCPL) coordinates and hosts the efforts of Digital Inclusion KC, which is facilitating collaboration among local organizations and initiatives in order to maximize resources for the greatest community impact.
Virtually all libraries (98-100 percent) offer free public computing, broadband, and Wi-Fi access.(1) But more and more CAIs are moving to address home broadband adoption. For example, the New York Public Library (NYPL), among other library systems, loans out remote wireless hot spot devices that allow consumers to access the Internet from their homes through its Library Hotspot program. Luke Swarthout, the Director of Adult Education Services at NYPL, said:
Our Library Hotspot program is focused on the 2 million New Yorkers without home Internet access… We looked at the needs of our patrons, our resources, and saw this opportunity to have an impact and experiment with a new model. HotSpot lending is just one tactic and can be more useful in some communities. The main question for us is how can libraries and civic institutions influence broadband adoption? How do we end this persistent gap that has such serious consequences for so many Americans? (2)
NYPL is not the only CAI loaning out “hot spots.” Public libraries in states from Maine to Kansas to Washington are “checking out” hundreds of hotspots to community residents of all ages. For example, in Missouri, the KCPL is piloting a hotspot program with Kansas City Public Schools. The program has a holistic purpose that brings connectivity and digital skills to entire families. A family can borrow a tablet and a hotspot device and receive digital literacy training. Students are required to perform 40 hours of community service, which may include training parents to use the Internet.
Some CAIs are extending their broadband networks to reach low-income homes and public spaces outside of CAI buildings, including through experimental use of TV White Space (TVWS). Communities across the country have begun to install TVWS units to support new remote public library Wi-Fi access points in parks, community centers, shelters, kiosks, underserved library branches, and other publicly accessible places. One of the libraries piloting the use of TVWS to extend library-supported public wireless broadband is Manhattan Public Library in Kansas, which is now providing community Wi-Fi hotspots in four remote locations.
School districts are also trying to address broadband adoption and the “homework gap” by expanding their broadband networks to surrounding residential consumers. For instance, the Albemarle County school system in southwestern Virginia has built its own fiber network connecting several K-12 schools and is also building an LTE wireless network that will allow all county students to have “school at home.”(3) The Boulder Valley School District in Colorado has requested a waiver of the Federal Communications Commission’s (FCC) E-rate rules to allow it to partner with low-income housing projects that seek to provide Internet access to students at home. Microsoft and school districts in southern Virginia have petitioned the FCC to allow E-rate-supported networks the use of TV white space technology to extend their service to the homes of students in and around those schools for educational purposes. (Both waivers suggest that E-rate funds will not be used to pay for these services.)
Similarly, CAIs also provide digital literacy training and support so that residential consumers can understand how to use devices and the Internet. Close to 90 percent of public libraries, for example, offer basic digital literacy training, and a significant majority support training related to new technology devices (62 percent), safe online practices (57 percent) and social media use (56 percent).(4)
The disparity between information “haves” and “have-nots” can be dangerous not just for individuals, but to the future of democracy. Closing the “digital divide” is of critical importance to our nation, and anchor institutions have a central role in helping solve this problem.
About the author
Angela Siefer is the Director of the National Digital Inclusion Alliance (NDIA). Angela envisions a world in which all members of society have the skills and resources to use the Internet for the betterment of themselves and their communities. Since 1997, Angela has worked on digital inclusion issues with local community organizations, the National Telecommunications and Information Administration, state governments, and the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition. This work led Angela to co-found the National Digital Inclusion Alliance, a unified national voice for local technology training, home broadband access, and public broadband access programs. A profile of her written work is at angelasiefer.com.
- J.C. Bertot, B. Real, J. Lee, A.J. McDermott, and P.T. Jaeger, 2014 Digital Inclusion Survey: Findings and Results, College Park, MD: Information Policy & Access Center, University of Maryland College Park (October 1, 2015) (Digital Inclusion Survey) http://digitalinclusion.umd.edu/sites/default/files/BroadbandBrief2015_1.pdf
- Angela Siefer, Katherine Bates, and Colin Rhinesmith, “Libraries’ Increasing Role in Broadband Adoption,” Benton Foundation (January 2016) (Benton Libraries Report) https://www.benton.org/initiatives/libraries-broadband-adoption
- Tim Shea, “Albemarle Schools Increasing Broadband Services,” Charlottesville Tomorrow (June 27, 2015) http://www.cvilletomorrow.org/news/article/21326-albemarle-schools-wireless-broadband/
- See Digital Inclusion Survey.