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Broadband's Impact

Armed With Broadband, Libraries Are Resuscitating Communities Ravaged by COVID-19

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Photo of Library Director Matt DeLaney courtesy Millinocket Memorial Library

May 27, 2020 — What’s the role of a library in a time of crisis? Truthfully, I had no idea. Probably none, I would have thought.

Libraries to this 20-something tech reporter represented a societal relic. A cultural residue of older solutions to problems. One that has been preserved either for the whims of researchers who wear half-moon glasses, or for nostalgia.

No offense to Melvil Dewey, but what does his system of decimals have on the algorithmic horsepower of the Google search engine?

After interviewing several heads of libraries, I found what I had been missing. Libraries are still around because they show the will to stay alive. Important to this life force is the fact that many libraries adapt. They do so in order to continue to be the repository of mankind’s knowledge — and a bridge to the future while fully rooted in the community, without ceding that future to a startup’s server farm in a country with the cheapest land prices.

What can libraries do?

Turns out, libraries can do a lot. Libraries promise to keep citizens competitive and informed, to help combat the worst excesses of the information age, but also to keep pace with it at a safe distance.

“Who says that who doesn’t want your wallet, or your soul?” Don Means, CEO of the Gigabit Libraries Network, said in an interview with Broadband Breakfast. Gigabit Libraries connects innovative libraries to one another and offers grants so that they may update their technology and connect their residents to high-speed broadband.

Screenshot of Don Means in March 2020 from a Gigabit Libraries Network webcast. Broadband Breakfast is Media Sponsor of the series.

Means boasted of the many unexpected ways in which libraries are useful. In today’s economy, “you can’t apply to a job at McDonald’s without going online,” Means said, putting emphasis on “can’t.”

Libraries also serve as sanctuaries for people without broadband, who lack important resources and have nowhere else to go. Means emphasized the universal nature of libraries. For example, undocumented immigrants trust librarians, Means told me.

It goes further than that: Refugees from both law and from natural disasters can find a sanctuary in libraries. During Hurricane Katrina, “people took generators and access points to the library” to create broadband, Means said. “Charlie Manson could walk into a library and they’d serve him,” Means added, with unqualified pride.

But Means is convinced that broadband and youth are critical to the library system’s survival. “I refuse to roll over,” Means said of the resistance he faced in modernizing some libraries.

If kids don’t get high-quality broadband in their communities, he said, “then the kids will leave.” He also noted that there has been a 50 percent increase in demand of e-books from libraries during COVID-19. Libraries have been more than happy to oblige.

Libraries are ‘incredibly committed’ to the communities in ‘flyover country,’ says Deb Fallows

Americans are generally unaware of “how incredibly committed libraries are to their mission of serving the people,” said Deb Fallows, co-author of Our Towns.

Fallows and her husband Jim Fallows visited dozens of towns in a single-engine prop airplane to research the book. Fittingly, those towns are often referred to as “flyover country”— small parts of rural America that often lack a reliable broadband connection.

Photo of Deb Fallows by Aaron Salcido courtesy Zócalo Public Square

Along the way, she connected with many of the country’s librarians and heard their stories. She recounted to me that in the town of Ajo, Arizona and Eastport, Maine, the latter of which has a population of 2,000, the public library is the only location in town that offers a wireless connection. Libraries in less remote towns she visited provide connectivity when residents “can’t afford a $4 latte” at the nearest cup-runneth-over-with-broadband coffee shop.

The libraries she visited provided a boon of vetted information about the coronavirus and what people can do to keep their families safe. “Libraries have said, ‘Here’s everything you need to know about this virus,’” Fallows told me. “Nothing’s going to stop them, not even the virus.”

The ‘one-horse town’ of Millinocket, Maine, gets its library back

Matt DeLaney, custodian of the Millinocket Memorial Library in Maine, remembered when he first arrived in the “one-horse town” that was to be his new home. Millinocket was economically decimated from the closing of its flagship paper mill in the wake of the 2008 financial crisis. Millinocket’s population shrank from 8,000 to 4,000, and the town’s library folded not long thereafter.

Those who chose to remain were hardened by the ensuing years of poverty and became weary of outsiders, DeLaney said.

In 2016, when DeLaney was hired to revive the library, he found himself amidst a “little bit of a fractured community,” and that the residents, while kind, were “somewhat distrustful.”

Photo of Millinocket, Maine by David Wilson used with permission

He spared no time in reviving the library he was hired to lead. His first order of business? Apply for a grant to update the library’s handful of 10-year old computers with new computers, servers and routers.

He also worked with Gigabit Libraries to access TV “white space,” or the unused radio frequency spectrum near the television band, to bring better-quality broadband to the townspeople. The grant was quickly approved, and for the first time in years, money began flowing back into Millinocket.

“The fact that someone outside of Millinocket believed in Millinocket” excited residents and showed them the potential of what a library could be, said DeLaney.

“It was kind of a real underdog story,” said DeLaney, not immodestly. He was later was awarded Maine Librarian of the year for his efforts. Upon receiving the phone call about the award, he said, “at first I thought it was a scam.” He chose to accept the honor after verifying its legitimacy.

DeLaney’s many accomplishments include constructing a new $2 million building in Millinocket. The opening of the building was postponed due to the coronavirus outbreak.

DeLaney’s efforts go far beyond the grant and the new building, which he mentioned to me almost as an afterthought. Prior to the pandemic, the library’s most popular service was lending out mountain bikes, canoes and kayaks.

While the physical library was temporarily closed due to COVID-19, DeLaney trained 35 community volunteers to deliver food and medicine to the townspeople. He and his crew raised $7,500 for relief fund to help feed the townspeople who had been laid off. He reconfigured the library’s hotspots to allow for 24/7 Wi-Fi in the parking lot.

He directed trainers to be “phone buddies” for the more vulnerable residents by teaching them how to work Instacart, as well as offering other Zoom classes and story time. All of these were coordinated through the library’s GoFundMe-like website, MobilizeKatahdin.org.

Libraries in other small towns also helping people ‘thrive at home’

The success story of the Millinocket library and its new effectiveness in the age of coronavirus is not an isolated incident in one remote town.

Stephen Houser, head of the Twin Lakes Library System in Georgia, also moved his library’s services online. Its new “thrive at home” program now offers community members coping with quarantines such digital opportunities as book clubs, mixology, yoga, gardening and story time.

Photo of Stephen Houser courtesy GeorgiaForward

The library also hosts a school lunch program, which has been so successful that Houser described “lines snaking through our parking lots and spilling onto the streets.”

Libraries, Means told me, provide an interface between the abstract concept of broadband and one’s communications experience at home. “We’re never doing things that are irrelevant.”

Editor’s Note: Broadband Breakfast is proud to be Media Sponsor of the Gigabit Libraries Network webinar series, “What is a Library If the Building is Closed?” To attend the event on May 29, 2020, at 11 a.m. ET, please register at “Libraries in Response: Reopening strategies in Ohio und Deutschland.” 

Education

Metaverse Can Serve as a Supplement, Not Replacement, For Educators: Experts

The virtual world where avatars can meet as if they were in real life can be a companion for education.

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Screenshot of the Brookings event Tuesday

WASHINGTON, June 29, 2022 – Experts said at a Brookings Institution event said Tuesday that while the “metaverse” can go a long way toward improving education for some students, it should serve as a supplement to those educational goals.

The metaverse refers to a platform of 3D virtual worlds where avatars, or virtual characters, meet as if they were in the real world. The concept has been toyed with by Facebook parent Meta and is being used as a test for the educational space.

“The metaverse is a world that is accessible to students and teachers across the globe that allows shared interactions without boundaries in a respectful optimistic way,” Simran Mulchandani, founder of education app Project Rangeet, said at Tuesday’s event.

Panelists stated that as the metaverse and education meet, researchers, educators, policymakers and digital designers should take the lead, so tech platforms do not dictate educational opportunities.

“We have to build classrooms first, not tech first,” said Mulchandani.

Rebecca Kantar, the head of education at Roblox – a video game platform that allows players to program games – added that as the metaverse is still emerging and being constructed, “we can be humble in our attempt to find the highest and best way to bring the metaverse” into the classroom for the best education for the future.

Anant Agarwal, a professor at MIT and chief open education officer for online learning platform edX, stated the technology of the metaverse has the potential to make “quality and deep education accessible to everybody everywhere.”

Not a replacement for real social experiences

Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, senior fellow of the global economy and development at the Center for Universal Education, said that while the metaverse brings potential to improve learning, it is not a complete replacement for the social experience a student has in the classroom.

“The metaverse can’t substitute for social interaction. It can supplement.”

Mulchandani noted the technology of the metaverse cannot replace the teacher, but rather can serve to solve challenges in the classroom.

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Digital Inclusion

FCC Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel Emphasizes 100 Percent Broadband Adoption

‘It’s about making sure wireless connections are available in 100 percent of rural America,’ said the chairwoman.

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Photo of Kelley Dunne, CEO of AmeriCrew, leading panel on workforce issues at the Rural Wireless Infrastructure Summit by Drew Clark

PARK CITY, Utah, June 28, 2022 – The Federal Communications Commission is making progress towards bringing “affordable, reliable, high-speed broadband to 100 percent of the country,” Chairwoman Jessica Rosenworcel said at the Rural Wireless Infrastructure Summit here on Tuesday.

Rosenworcel pointed to the $65 billion Infrastructure Investment and Jobs Act now being deployed across the country, with a particular focus on unconnected rural and tribal areas.

Although the Commerce Department’s National Telecommunications and Information Administration will take the lead with these funds, the FCC’s new broadband coverage maps will be important in implementing state digital equity plans.

In her remarks, Rosenworcel also discussed how the upcoming 2.5 GigaHertz spectrum auction will involve licensing spectrum primarily to rural areas.

At the July FCC open meeting, said Rosenworcel, the agency is scheduled to establish a new program to help enhance wireless competition. It is called the Enhanced Competition Incentive Program.

The program aims to build incentives for existing carriers to build opportunities for smaller carriers and tribal nations through leasing or partitioning spectrum. Existing carriers will be rewarded with longer license terms, extensions on build-out obligations, and more flexibility in construction requirements.

“It’s about making sure wireless connections are available in 100 percent of rural America,” she said.

She also indicated her commitment to work with Congress to fund the FCC’s “rip and replace” program to reimburse many rural operators’ transitions from Chinese-manufactured telecommunications equipment. She also touted the role that open radio access networks can plan in more secure telecommunications infrastructure.

In other news at the conference, FCC Commissioner Brendan Carr addressed the role of funding broadband operations in rural America, the challenges of workforce training, and ensuring that rural carriers have access to high-cost universal service support.

In a session moderated by AmeriCrew CEO Kelley Dunne, panelists from the U.S. Labor Department, the Wireless Infrastructure Association and Texas A&M Extension Education Services addressed the need to offer a vocational career path for individuals for whom a four-year degree may not be the right choice. AmeriCrew helps U.S. military veterans obtain careers in building fiber, wireless and electric vehicle charging infrastructure.

Broadband Breakfast Editor and Publisher Drew Clark contributed to this report.

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Broadband's Impact

Broadband Speeds Have Significant Impact on Economy, Research Director Says

From 2010 to 2020, a 10.9 percent growth in broadband penetration drove .04 percent increase in GDP, the study found.

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Photo of Alan Davidson of the NTIA, Caroline Kitchens of Shopify, Raul Katz of Columbia University (left to right)

WASHINGTON, June 28, 2022 – Broadband and higher speeds have made significant contributions to economic growth over the last decade, according to a study discussed at a Network On conference Tuesday.

Raul Katz, director of business strategy research at Columbia University, conducted his research to determine where the United States economy would be if broadband had not evolved since 2010. He developed four models to explain the economic contribution of broadband, and all found support to suggest that broadband development has contributed to substantial economic growth.

The long-run economic growth model showed that between 2010 and 2020, a 10.9 percent growth in broadband penetration drove a .04 percent increase in gross domestic product – the measure of the value of goods and services produced in the nation. States with higher speed broadband had an economic impact of an additional 11.5 percent.

“States with higher speeds of broadband have a higher economic effect,” said Katz. “Not only is there penetration as a driver, but there’s also… return to speed. At faster speeds, the economy tends to be more efficient.”

The study found that if broadband adoption and speed had remained unchanged since 2010, the 2020 GDP would have been 6.27 percent lower, said Katz.

Caroline Kitchens, a representative for ecommerce platform Shopify, said Tuesday that there’s been great growth in the ecommerce business, which relies entirely on a broadband connection. “Worldwide, Shopify merchants create 3.5 million jobs and have an economic impact of more than $307 billion. It goes without saying that none of this is possible without broadband access.”

“We have really seen firsthand how broadband access promotes entrepreneurship,” said Kitchens, indicating that this has promoted a growing economy in over 100 countries.

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