Apply Now for Federal ECF Funding for Hotspots and Devices

As previously announced in June, the window is now open for the next 44 days (June 29 to August 13)  for accredited public libraries to apply for the federal Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) in order to purchase hotspots, lendable laptops, or Internet equipment and services for patron use outside of the library building.

There is now an ECF official website that has training and a place to enter your email address to receive official announcements, including upcoming training opportunities.

Is ECF right for your library?

ECF does have requirements to be aware of:

  1. You must have an active FCC Registration Number, SAM.gov registration, and login to the E-rate Productivity Center (EPC) to participate.
  2. To receive ECF funds on internet access, you must comply with the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) which, among other things, requires filtering on all of the library-owned computers.
  3. If you want to avoid having to filter, however, libraries do not have to be CIPA-compliant to get ECF funding for hotspot hardware and computers as long as they aren’t receiving ECF for internet access. You would NOT be able to use ECF for hotspot service (cellular data plan), however, without filtering.  Note: Patron-owned computers never have to be filtered.
  4. Patrons receiving a circulated hotspot/connected device purchased with ECF will need to receive an eligible use policy from you and must sign and return a statement that says they lack the connectivity support at home.
  5. You need to maintain inventories of devices and services purchased with ECF support. Examples of what the inventories must include are: (a) device type, and; (b) name of the person the device was loaned to and the dates the device was loaned and returned.
  6. You must also maintain a record of the services purchased including: (a) type of service (e.g.,cable, fiber, wireless), (b) upload and download speeds; and (c) name of the person who received the service.
  7. You must retain records for at least 10 years from the last date of service or delivery of equipment funded by the ECF. This appears to mean that the information collected in the above Certification of need (# 2 above) and Inventories sections must be retained for 10 years.
  8. You are prohibited from selling or transferring equipment for three years after its purchase. After this, equipment may be sold, transferred, disposed of, donated, or traded.

If you have additional questions or need assistance, please reach out to TSLAC’s library technology consultant Henry Stokes (hstokes@tsl.texas.gov) who has begun an email list for any Texas libraries interested in ECF or future funding opportunities for hotspot/connected device lending (and there are more coming!). Let him know you’d like to be added so you can stay up to date with news and resources.

Public Libraries Can Apply for New Summer-Only Federal Program – Special Funding for Lending Hotspots and Devices

To address the widening digital divide and Homework Gap, the FCC recently created the Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF). Accredited public libraries are invited to apply for this special funding in the next couple of months (June to August – exact dates TBD).

Illustration of librarian looking patriotic and standing in front of a transmitting WiFi router

If you’re a public library considering purchasing hotspots, lendable laptops, or Internet equipment and services for patron use outside of the library building for the time frame of July 1, 2021, through June 30, 2022, then this is a great opportunity to have most of your costs covered—but you’ll have to act soon. The window to apply will only last for 45 days and will start in mid- to late June.

What can you get with ECF?

  • WiFi hotspots (including on bookmobiles) at a maximum reimbursement of $250 per hotspot
  • WiFi hotspot service plans at 100% reimbursement
  • Modems, routers, and devices that combine a router and modem at 100% reimbursement
  • Connected devices (laptops, tablets) at a maximum reimbursement of $400 per device
  • Broadband connectivity to connect the otherwise unconnected (beyond the library building) at 100% reimbursement ( must be commercially available unless none is available)

Here are the major details to know:

  • Applications will be made using a version of the E-rate’s Form 471, and applicants must have an E-rate Productivity Center (EPC) account and a SAM registration to apply, but unlike E-rate, no competitive bidding is required.
  • Applicants must keep an inventory of devices provided to individuals, including who the device was loaned to and when it was returned (similar to other circulation records) and documentation must be retained for 10 years.
  • Libraries with higher E-rate discounts (plus a 5% bonus to those with rural status) will receive funding before those with lower discounts. This means that applicants in the lower discount bands may receive no funding. Contact Henry Stokes at hstokes@tsl.texas.gov to find out your library’s current E-rate discount.
  • The library applicant will likely have to comply with the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) to receive the funding for most reimbursement requests.
Graphic of an exasperated person peering at a long list

Come learn more

There will be a webinar for Texas public libraries conducted by the staff at E-rate Central (TSLAC’s Libraries Connecting Texas partner) on Thursday, June 10, 2:00 – 3:00 p.m.

Tile: Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) and Public Libraries

Description: A webinar for Texas librarians who want to know more about the Emergency Connectivity Fund (ECF) and its implication for libraries. During the webinar we will discuss the rules, the process and the timetable during which the ECF program will be implemented. Henry Stokes will be on the call to answer specific questions about implementation of the program in Texas libraries.

When: Jun 10, 2021 02:00 PM Central Time (US and Canada)

Register in advance for this webinar:

https://centraled.zoom.us/webinar/register/WN_8S_SV0HXR1eFRSm_OX_vpA

After registering, you will receive a confirmation email containing information about joining the webinar.

Other resources to check out

Illustration of a librarian holding ethernet cord in Word War 2 era style poster

Please contact Henry Stokes, State E-rate Coordinator for Texas Libraries at TSLAC for further questions and assistance

The Results Are In! – 2021 TSLAC Texas Public Library Speed Test

In March 2021, TSLAC conducted its fourth Texas Public Library Speed Test, which provided a snapshot of public library Internet speeds across Texas. As we had done in 2016, 2017, and 2019, we provided an online network speed test tool for public libraries throughout Texas to test the Internet speed at each of their locations on a wired public access computer. The results (download and upload speed in Megabits per second, or Mbps) were automatically recorded for TSLAC to compile. For the 2021 test, 62% of accredited public libraries in Texas participated. Network speeds from 444 locations were collected, representing 314 main libraries.  

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) outlined broadband targets for libraries and schools participating in the E-rate program in the E-rate Modernization Order. The Order adopted the following targets recommended by ALA (American Library Association):

  • 100 Mbps or greater – libraries serving fewer than 50,000 people
  • 1 Gbps (Gigabit per second) or greater – libraries serving more than 50,000 people

In a separate action, the FCC recommended a minimum speed of 25 Mbps per household in 2015.

At the conclusion of the Texas Public Library Speed Test, TSLAC cross-referenced the collected data to the FCC’s broadband targets based on respondents’ population size.

Significant findings

Since the last test in December 2019, there has been a:

  • 3% increase of libraries meeting the FCC standards for their population size
  • 5% increase of libraries now exceeding 25 Mbps download (the minimum FCC benchmark for households)
  • 7% increase of smaller libraries now meeting their benchmark of at least 100 Mbps download
  • 26% increase of larger libraries now higher than 100 Mbps and less than 1 Gbps

TSLAC’s efforts the last few years to promote high speed Internet and E-rate discounts to public libraries, as well as its successful Libraries Connecting Texas (LCT) program, have had a noticeable impact.

Badge that indicates TSLAC has provided library high-speed Internet
Displayable sticker for eligible participating libraries coming soon

But we still have a way to go. The test results indicate that as much two-thirds of Texas public libraries are below national broadband standards for libraries. In addition, 18% of reporting Texas public libraries did not meet the FCC’s minimum definition of broadband for individual households (25 Mbps). The 82 libraries that did not meet this minimum standard serve over 4 million Texans. Public libraries providing patron computers and Wi-Fi access face greater demands than household networks, requiring faster speeds for patrons to efficiently access distance learning, e-government information, and employment opportunities. The pandemic has only further put the disparities of access in stark relief.

Thank you to the public libraries for participating in TSLAC’s public library speed tests. We plan to conduct more in the future to measure impact and help us determine the current statewide needs for broadband. Collecting this data on regular basis benefits the entire Texas library community and will help us as we work to ensure that every Texan has the Internet access they need.

Help Your Community and Patrons Get Low-Cost Internet and Affordable Devices

Text reading Emergency Broadband Benefit FCC in the shape of a WiFi signal

The Federal Communications Commission has launched a temporary program to help families and households struggling to afford Internet service during the COVID-19 pandemic. The Emergency Broadband Benefit (EBB) provides a discount of up to $50 per month toward broadband service for eligible households and up to $75 per month for households on qualifying Tribal lands. Eligible households can also receive a one-time discount of up to $100 to purchase a laptop, desktop computer, or tablet from participating providers.

Similar to the Lifeline program, the Emergency Broadband Benefit exists to ensure that individuals with low income can fully participate in civic life by connecting them with affordable internet service and access to devices, two of the principles of digital inclusion.

How can libraries help? 

  • Help get the word out to your patrons! This is a limited time benefit, so the sooner people apply, the better. The FCC has created a free downloadable multilingual Outreach toolkit complete with fact sheets, social media posts, flyers and more than can be used to spread the word. 
  • Coordinate with partner organizations to assist in reaching out to qualifying individuals. 
  • Become familiar with the offers available to your community so you’ll be able to connect people on a moment’s notice.

Program details:

The Fine Print:

  • The program will end as soon as funds run out or six months after the Department of Health and Human Services declares an end to the COVID-19 health emergency.
  • Only one monthly service discount and one device discount is allowed per household. Program rules acknowledge there may be more than one eligible household residing at the same address.

Contact:

  • For more information, the community can visit getemergencybroadband.org or call 833-511-0311. An application by mail can also be requested by calling the same number.

Additional resources:

Free Webinar: The Library’s Role in Connecting Texans to Internet Access

County map of Texas depicting different percentages of broadband availability. Data collected and mapped by ConnectedTexas.

Almost one million Texans do not have access to high-speed internet access in their homes, but what role do libraries and library workers play in ensuring home connectivity? 

On Tuesday, May 25, 2021, at 2:00 p.m. (Central), join Mark Smith, State Librarian and Director of the Texas State Library and Archives Commission, and Eddy Smith, Executive Director of the Abilene Library Consortium and Texas Library Association representative to the Governor’s Broadband Development Council, for a free webinar. They will discuss the current landscape of internet access in Texas. You’ll learn why Texans do not have equitable access to high-speed internet (broadband), what potential solutions—including funding—may exist to level the playing field, and how libraries and library workers can play a role in ensuring a future of statewide connectivity.

Registration for this webinar can be found on our Continuing Education webinars page.

Calling All Texas Public Libraries: Take the 2021 TSLAC Public Library Speed Test!

The Texas State Library and Archives Commission is currently collecting data about Internet speeds from all Texas public libraries (both mains and branches) with an online speed test. The test measures how much Internet speed (how fast things load from the Internet) patrons can receive from their library location and automatically sends the results to us at the State Library. The data will be invaluable in our planning and help us determine further statewide needs for broadband.

Email invitations with the testing link were sent out Monday to all directors. Please use the link from the email and conduct your test at the library location(s) by next Friday, April 16. If you did not receive the invitation, please contact Henry Stokes at ld@tsl.texas.gov.

HHH: Library Telehealth Visits Revisited

Logo for Henry's Hightech Highlights

In May 2019, I highlighted the topic of telehealth for my Henry’s High-Tech Highlights blog series. I think it’s high time we take another look. Before this year, telehealth was a fairly new technology that only a handful of folks were thinking about and exploring. With the pandemic, it’s risen to the forefront of people’s minds, becoming more relevant than ever. Suddenly we need telehealth implemented everywhere, on a massive scale, as communities, especially rural ones, are facing a worsening health crisis. Many lack local healthcare facilities to visit and the necessary Internet connectivity to make virtual doctor visits work. Libraries around the country are poised to be the perfect partners in these efforts to bring this critical need to the community, and we just happen to have a pioneer right here in Texas leading the charge. 

Today’s highlight: Telehealth at the library


The Facts

First off, why do folks need telehealth access, especially now?

  • Rural hospitals have been closing at a catastrophic rate.
  • Many people in rural areas are located far from any hospitals.
  • There’s also a lack of transportation options (no public transit) for folks to physically travel to the hospital.
  • Even when transportation is available, patients are often reluctant to travel outside of their area.
  • And most significantly, there is insufficient broadband access, a requirement for telehealth, in many residents’ homes.

Additionally, many of retirement age buy homes in rural areas to live, but when they find they need more healthcare, they end up selling their homes and returning to the cities due to the lack of access. Adding telehealth services to libraries means these seniors could receive the healthcare they need, thus allowing them to stay, age in place, and have the quality of life they desire. Libraries have the opportunity to be transformative, helping to maintain the vitality of their communities.

Why are libraries the perfect telehealth partners?

  1. It’s a place already in communities to serve people’s needs that people trust.
  2. It has friendly, helpful staff who respect privacy and are pros at teaching digital literacy skills.
  3. It often has free high speed Internet, faster than many might get at home.

I think libraries and telehealth go great together, so I decided to make another promotional poster based on ones from World War 2 to support telehealth services at libraries.

Poster depicts librarian (dressed as Rosie the Riveter) holding an ethernet cord and standing proud in front of a waving American flag. The words "Telehealth Saves Lives" are next to her. Below, the text reads: "High Speeds Meet People's Needs. See your local public library. Telehealth Services at participating locations."
The previous poster I designed is placed next to the original 1940s one that shows a Rosie the Riveter type with her husband standing proud in front of the American flag. The text below reads "I'm Proud... my husband wants me to do my part. See your U.S. Employment Service"
The original poster on the left, and my remix on the right.

I’ve created other library tech posters in a similar style if you want to check them out.


A Pioneering Pilot

Despite the great match-up of libraries and telehealth, there are very few examples in the U.S. I’m pleased to report that Texas is leading the pack in this regard. Pottsboro Area Library, a very small rural library an hour and a half north of Dallas, has a new telehealth pilot project in partnership with University of North Texas Health Science Center (UNT-HSC).

Last week, I invited Dianne Connery, former Director (now Special Projects Librarian) at Pottsboro Area Library and Jessica Rangell from UNT-HSC, to present during a monthly Zoom “TechChat” for TLA’s Innovation and Technology Round Table (ITRT) to discuss the facts I’ve outlined above and give a brief update on the pilot.

Here is a youtube recording of the 30 minute chat from 2/25/2021 if you want to watch the whole thing, but I’ve also highlighted the key points below.

During her talk, Dianne described how patrons would come into the library during the early days of the pandemic, reporting that their doctors wanted to talk to them but didn’t want them coming in for appointments for fear of contracting Covid. Unfortunately, a virtual visit wasn’t possible for these patrons since they didn’t have Internet access at home. What were these patrons supposed to do? 

Dianne had recently installed fiber at her library in order to support an innovative eSports program, so she knew the library’s Internet was up to snuff for a video-conferencing call. At first, she ended up setting up telehealth visits for these patrons in her office so they could have their doctors’ appointments. This was just a stopgap solution, however. A clear need was being articulated by the community, and Dianne wanted to do more to address the issue.

Investigating further, Dianne discovered a grant available from the Network of the National Library of Medicine (NNLM) – South Central Region (SCR). She applied and was awarded funding to pay for lighting (more on that later), health collection development, hardware (webcam, microphone, computer), signage, and marketing materials so that she could set up an innovative telehealth pilot with her partners at UNT-HSC.

Photograph that shows desktop computer in a designated telehealth room with good lighting.
A closer look at Pottsboro’s telehealth setup. Note the lighting.

How It Works

Step 1: If someone in the community has the need for telehealth, they make a call directly to the Health Science Center to make the reservation. This protects their privacy (library staff never knows the names, only the times of the appointments). This is especially important in a small town where everyone may know each other. 

Step 2: Once the reservation is made, the patient can come into the library to a special designated room that is staffed by healthcare professionals. Besides the registration, the payment process and screening for Covid is all handled through the Health Science Center.

Promotional banner that reads "Check out telehealth at your local library!" and a bullet point list of : "Call to schedule your appointment, Complete your pre-visit check-in electronically, Show up at the library for your appointment" Below that is the contact info for UNT-HSC.
Promotional banner for Pottsboro Area Library and UNT-HSC’s telehealth program

Here are a few more points made by the presenters:

  • Offering this kind of telehealth service is scalable to any size library.
  • A library doesn’t need to have a separate dedicated room.
  • It does, however, require good Internet like from a fiber connection.
  • It also requires good lighting to ensure clinicians can diagnose their patrons with the same visual information they would have in person. 
  • As mentioned in my intro, many are now abuzz about telehealth due to the pandemic’s highlighting of the ever-widening digital divide. Legislators and funding providers are eager to support projects like this and bring telehealth to communities. So keep on the look-out; funding is coming!

A Community of Practice

With her pilot, Dianne says she’s building the plane as she’s flying it, just winging it really. This is such new terrain we’re all in. We will all benefit from the lessons learned from her attempt, but let’s get the conversation going and develop a community of practice.

Some questions to explore:

  • What kind of training do library staff need to set up and implement telehealth services?
  • How should libraries advertise this new service and reach people where they are? 
  • How should libraries implement good workflows to deal with infection control issues?
  • What are considerations not thought of?
  • What more can be done in this space? For example, could it be made mobile to visit patients where they are  – such as in nursing homes and assisted living facilities?

Are you considering telehealth at your library, or are you already doing it? Want to learn more? Please email me with subject line “Telehealth” if you have stories, ideas, or resources to share – or if you just want to stay in the loop with regard to library telehealth in Texas.

TSLAC’s Program to Get FREE E-rate Consultant Help Continues this Year!

E-rate is a federal discount program available to accredited public libraries that pays up to 90% of broadband costs, but we at TSLAC know the process to complete an application like this can be daunting. TSLAC is continuing its support of libraries this year in applying for E-rate. The project, called Libraries Connecting Texas (LCT), provides FREE, one-on-one support from a professional consulting firm, E-rate Central, to guide participating libraries successfully through the 2021 E-rate Funding Year. 

Sticker that reads "We offer highspeed internet made possible by the Texas State Library and Archives Commission

Last year, 157 libraries received the free expert help and successfully received E-rate funding. LCT applications now represent 67% of funded library applications in Texas, and the average bandwidth for LCT libraries has increased from around 70 Mbps to 450 Mbps.

If you’re interested in participating this year, please contact Henry Stokes at LD@tsl.texas.gov ASAP

HHH: Fiber

Logo for Henry's Hightech Highlights

I’ve highlighted a lot of exciting technologies in this blog series, but there is one out there right now that I believe libraries should be making every effort to acquire and take advantage of, if they haven’t already. Harnessing it will ensure that both the library and the community it serves will continue to thrive in the future. The technology I’m talking about is fiber optic cable connectivity.


Today’s highlight: Fiber


Social media giant Facebook announced earlier this month that they’ve been collaborating with a number of partners to develop a robot that can deploy fiber optic cables quickly over power lines. This dramatically reduces the cost of fiber construction.

 [Nerdy fun fact that I personally love: they nicknamed the robot “Bombyx”, scientific name for a silk moth. Get it?]

Computer-generated rendering of cylindrical robot on powerlines above an inhabited rural area.
Source: Facebook

Why is Facebook making an acrobatic silkworm robot? Around the world, 3.5 billion people are still not connected to the Internet. And for those who have access, average data usage per person is growing 20 to 30 percent annually, pushing current capacity to its limits. To address these issues, Facebook says, “fiber must be brought from the backbone closer to the end user.”  For them, that means pursuing innovations like Bombyx.

I, for one, welcome our new robot fiber deliverers.  


What is fiber?

To put it poetically, it’s light-filled glass connecting us to a better tomorrow. I’m inspired to describe it this way because of the book I’m currently reading: “Fiber: The Coming Tech Revolution―and Why America Might Miss It” by Susan Crawford. In her book, Crawford sings fiber’s praises and makes excellent points about why fiber deployment is the key to the nation’s success.

Cover image of the book, Fiber: The Coming Tech Revolution―and Why America Might Miss It, by Susan Crawford

On her love of the technology of fiber, Crawford writes:

“Inventors have found ways to encode stunning amounts of information on pulses of light vibrating billions of times per second, and then send that light on its journey through a channel made of the purest glass on earth.”

Fiber, Crawford explains, is a physical connection that needs to be distributed to each individual building for it to be harnessed. The same is true for copper and cable, of course, but fiber is more flexible and doesn’t require recipients to be close to a central physical hub. Perhaps the biggest advantage of fiber is one doesn’t have to dig the existing cables back up to make an upgrade. Those cables can stay where they are, and they last for decades. One just has to “swap out the electronics that encode and power the pulses of light,” which are easily accessible above ground. This means that fiber is almost infinitely upgradeable, and it’s why so many consider it a future-proof technology, unlikely to become obsolete any time soon.


Needed for the future

Many of the emerging technologies I have highlighted for HHH are ones we expect to be a big part of our lives in the future. And here’s the truth: they require fiber infrastructure to work in the first place.

So many of us use our smartphone in the outside world away from our homes, and we might be forgiven for thinking that wireless connectivity is a wholly separate technology from a wired connection. But they’re actually complimentary―WiFi requires a fast wired connection for it to work. Fiber, plus advanced wireless capability, as we’d see with the predicted 5G revolution, is, as Crawford writes, “central to the next phase of human existence as electricity was a hundred years ago.

5G means that enormous amounts of data can be shipped to whenever and wherever they’re needed. This allows the Internet of Things (IoT) to be implemented in our towns and cities to improve citizens’ lives, solving problems like traffic and the handling of fires and accidents, among many other things.

Fiber also enables Augmented Reality (AR). All that visual annotation occurring in real-time, or the piping in of live video feeds into our field of vision while we are out in the world―these features require fiber-enabled 5G connectivity. In her book, Crawford asks us to imagine an apprentice training in a remote factory using directions from AR, rather than having to go to the physical central training location. It means those in rural areas will have equal access to the same privileges as their urban counterparts.

Fiber/5G also allows for artificial intelligence (AI), driverless vehicles and personalized transportation, neural interfaces, persistent recognition systems, esports, and wearables.

And of course, telehealth. Crawford writes, “Every part of the health care system could be vastly improved by eliminating distance, bringing data, doctors, and counselors where they’re needed via communication networks, rather than making 330 million Americans travel to where these specialists and databases are.

Finally, Crawford thinks we may not fully grasp the value of having even faster speeds with fiber―particularly with regard to interacting remotely. Currently when we video conference with one another (an activity many of are having to do a whole lot more of), there are still lags when virtually communicating. Crawford points out that this delay means eye contact between people is not genuine. It’s something we humans actually notice, and subconsciously the interaction doesn’t fully satisfy us. It feels virtual, inferior. With the fiber-enabled higher speeds, we can overcome this dissatisfaction and unease. The closer we make our remote, virtual interactions feel like we are physically present with each other, the better the social connection, which could make a big impact in how we embrace the technology and use it in the future. Crawford writes, “Fiber will allow us to be present in others’ lives in ways we cannot now imagine.” 


Needed now

The truth is we can’t wait for the future to come.

The current crisis is revealing just how much of a digital divide we have in the United States. The alarm was raised long before the pandemic when it was pointed out that students who lacked Internet access at home were unable to complete their mandatory online homework, causing them to lose valuable educational opportunities and fall behind their classmates. Called the “homework gap,” this discrepancy and inequality of access created immediate disadvantages for many people. But in the times we’re living in now, with schools closing and having to switch to virtual classrooms, it means these same kids can no longer even participate in school activities at all. And, it should be pointed out, it’s not just Internet access that’s needed, but fast, affordable and reliable Internet access. Students may have an Internet-enabled device at home, but it may not be connected to the higher speeds needed to handle the video conferencing technology school use for their classes. What we’re seeing is that it’s not just a homework gap any more; it’s a learning gap. And we need a solution now. We needed it yesterday.

When public library buildings closed, similar issues were faced by many adults, who lost access to crucial services and opportunities. So many paths to success in life rely now on having online access: job search and training, healthcare information, communicating with loved ones, etc. Many people’s sole computer is their smartphone, and they must pay for data to access the Internet. Free available WiFi found at public libraries is a way to not only access the needed services but also to save money. Taking away the library’s Internet revealed just how many folks relied on it. Closing the library building and stopping the transmission of its Internet access is self-destructive. The community is stifled and starved, lacking in its source of nourishment to grow. This is why so many libraries are trying to lend out wireless hotspots and extend their WiFi into their parking lots. 

It’s not just the schools or libraries. A BroadbandNow report released in February said that only 25 percent of American have access to fiber, versus 87 percent for China’s 1.4 billion population. We are way behind. Everyone has a right to fast Internet speed right now. And those who don’t have it may suffer and become further disadvantaged.

Getting fiber to the library is a good start.  


How are public libraries getting fiber?

If a library isn’t receiving fiber, and no service provider is offering it at an affordable cost to the area, consider the following:

  • Advocate for fiber infrastructure to be brought to your community, either locally or nationally. 
  • Apply for federal E-rate discounts to afford the costs not only for special construction to build out the fiber to the library building, but for the cost of the Internet access itself.
  • Look for any existing fiber infrastructure in your community that can be leveraged. State appropriated funding in Texas helped support school districts in building expensive fiber rings across the state. We’re now seeing public libraries partnering with those same school districts to start taking advantage of their fiber connectivity. In many cases, the fiber ring was built so physically close that the cost to connect the library is minimal. Often in these partnerships, libraries join forces with the schools as part of a single consortium to apply for federal E-rate discounts.

Library Fiber for Victory!

Back in January, for this Highlights series, I created a set of updated World War II posters to empower library staff about using technology. 

For this month’s post, I’ve fashioned a new poster to drive home the need for more fiber in our efforts to close the digital divide as COVID-19 challenges us further:

On the left, original poster shows  soldiers carrying lumber beams to a bridge that's under construction over a river in the background. Other soldiers are defending an attack and an explosion has occurred in the river near the bridge. One soldier is facing the viewer has his hand up to his open mouth. Caption below says "KEEP THAT LUMBER COMING!".  On the right, new poster shows same soldiers now wearing the safety helmets and vests of public utility workers, and instead of carrying lumber, they're carrying fiberoptic cable which is being laid on the bridge.  The explosion in the water is labeled "COVID-19" and the gap in the bridge on the river is labeled, "DIGITAL DIVIDE". The yelling soldier facing the front now sports a badge with the library symbol on it.  Caption below says "KEEP THAT FIBER COMING!"
On the left, the original war-time poster; On the right, my modern update. Note the librarian issuing the clarion call.
Bigger version of new poster (Soldiers now wearing the safety helmets and vests of public utility workers carrying fiberoptic cable which is being laid on a halfway constructed bridge over a river.  The explosion in the water is labeled "COVID-19" and the gap in the bridge on the river is labeled, "DIGITAL DIVIDE". The yelling soldier facing the front  sports a badge with the library symbol on it.  Caption below says "KEEP THAT FIBER COMING!")

Additional resources

The Results are in! – 2019 TSLAC Texas Public Library Speed Test

In December 2019, TSLAC conducted its third Texas Public Library Speed Test, which provided a snapshot of public library Internet speeds across Texas. As we had done in 2016 and 2017, we provided an online network speed test tool for public libraries throughout Texas to test the Internet speed at each of their locations on a wired public access computer. The results (download and upload speed in Megabits per second, or Mbps) were automatically recorded for TSLAC to compile. For the 2019 test, 67% of accredited public libraries in Texas participated.  Network speeds from 494 locations were collected, representing 356 main libraries.  

Photo of Fort Worth Library Computer Lab
Fort Worth Public Library public access computers

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) outlined broadband targets for libraries and schools participating in the E-rate program in the recent E-rate Modernization Order. The Order adopted the following targets recommended by ALA (American Library Association):

  • 100 Mbps or greater – libraries serving fewer than 50,000 people
  • 1 Gbps (Gigabit per second) or greater – libraries serving more than 50,000 people

In a separate action, the FCC recommended a minimum speed of 25 Mbps per household in 2015.

At the conclusion of the Texas Public Library Speed Test, TSLAC cross-referenced the collected data to the FCC’s broadband targets based on respondents’ population size.

Significant findings

30% of Texas public libraries (152 of 494 respondents) that reported results met the targets set by the FCC and ALA. This is a significant increase from 2016 and 2017 tests, when this percentage was a mere 6%. 

TSLAC’s efforts the last few years to promote high speed Internet and E-rate discounts to public libraries, as well as its successful Libraries Connecting Texas (LCT) program, have had a noticeable impact. But we still have a ways to go. The test results indicate that as much as 70% of Texas public libraries are below national broadband standards for libraries. In addition, 23% of reporting Texas public libraries did not meet the FCC’s minimum definition of broadband for individual households (25 Mbps). The 116 libraries that did not meet this minimum standard serve over 4 million Texans.  Public libraries providing patron computers and Wi-Fi access face greater demands than household networks, requiring faster speeds for patrons to efficiently access distance learning, e-government information, and employment opportunities.

Thank you to the public libraries for participating in TSLAC’s public library speed tests. We plan to conduct more in the future to measure impact and help us determine the current statewide needs for broadband. Collecting this data on regular basis benefits the entire Texas library community and will help us as we work to ensure that every Texan has the Internet access they need.