The Association for Rural and Small Libraries (ARSL) has become a member of the Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition. The mission of the SHLB Coalition is to improve the broadband capabilities of schools, libraries and health care providers so that they can enhance the quality and availability of the essential services they provide to the public and underserved populations more effectively.
At the invitation of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, an ARSL representative was part of recent meetings with the SHLB Coalition and the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) regarding a comprehensive reform of its Universal Service Fund (USF). In late October, the FCC announced creation of a new Connect America Fund with a $4.5 billion annual budget to help expand high-speed Internet to rural America over the next 6 years. A key project goal, something the SHLB Coalition helped assure, is universal availability of modern networks capable of providing voice and broadband service to anchor institutions such as rural libraries.
John Windhausen, SHLB Coalition Executive Director, said, “The SHLB Coalition applauds the FCC for ensuring that recipients of USF support must serve the broadband needs of community anchor institutions in rural America. We are particularly pleased that anchor institutions are given an opportunity to participate in the design of the broadband networks serving their areas, and that recipients of USF funding must include the anchor institutions served in their annual reports. Providing rural schools, libraries, health care providers and other community anchors with affordable, high-capacity broadband will go a long way toward improving educational opportunities, medical care and economic growth in rural America.”
The SHLB Coalition emphasizes that public libraries make wired and wireless broadband connections available to the public at no charge. These connections allow people to submit job applications, apply for e-government benefits, participate in distance education and complete school homework assignments, with the additional benefit of support from on-site professional librarians.