As we approach our next round of strategic planning, we are beginning to have a series of conversations with our various stakeholder groups about their aspirations for their institutions and how TSLAC can support them. One area that is emerging as a key area of focus for the library community is the availability of broadband statewide. Or should I say the lack of availability.
Broadband access is a major economic development issue for much of the state. As commerce, government, and education come to rely more intensively on the Internet and ever larger files are streaming across those networks, it is vital that Texans have the capacity to participate in that information flow. In many places, their participation is limited to what is offered by their telecom providers. In many communities the limitation is simply that the connectivity does not go to the community. Indeed, many have observed the similarity of broadband to the need for rural electrification of 75 years ago, a basic infrastructural gap.
And libraries might be in a position to help. Because of the availability of e-rate funding, libraries can secure discounts of 20-80% for the cost of ongoing service, and 10% of the cost of construction before applying the discount. And because so many people turn to libraries for Internet access, they are a natural entry point for broadband entry to the community. And don’t just take our word for it, consider this recent blog post from the National League of Cities that says the same:
For these reasons, we are exploring how TSLAC could help libraries to secure the broadband they need to provide this vital link in their communities. The Texas House is considering the same question. In an interim charge asks the House Committee on Public Education to “Examine the accessibility to broadband services for schools, libraries, and institutions of higher education” (my emphasis).
It might be costly at the front end, but library broadband access can be the key to a much higher level of economic development and access to educational resources for Texans in all parts of the state.