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.

HHH: Library Tech for Victory!

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Hi there, Henry here.This month’s High-Tech Highlight is a special edition for the new year. I wanted to share a fun project of mine where I took three World War II recruitment posters and updated them (via Photoshop) to help highlight some of the new technology roles that modern library staff should adopt today.

You Can Do I.T. logo

But first, some background: The inspiration for this project stemmed from a promotional graphic I created back in 2014 for TSLAC’s You Can Do I.T. (YCDIT) technology training program. For the workshop series’ logo, I updated the iconic Rosie the Riveter image from the World War II propaganda poster. Re-dubbing her “I.T. Heidi”, I made her a TSLAC shade of blue, gave her a library symbol badge, and modified her flexing arm to proudly show off an ethernet cable. For my co-worker Cindy Fisher, who spearheaded YCDIT, I fashioned an action figure to take on the road as a kind of mascot, and we had a lot of fun asking participants to flex their arm, hold up a cable, and strike the ‘Heidi Pose’ for our cameras.

Recently, I was remembering those experiences and how empowering the image of I.T. Heidi was, just like her grandmother Rosie. I began musing about similar ways to encourage library staff to embrace the new technology roles that the profession has been rapidly adopting. World War II recruitment posters, like Rosie’s, encouraged American women to join the war effort by becoming workers in munitions factories, and I wondered if the same patriotic messaging style could be updated for today’s library staff with regard to technology.

Below are three examples with this idea in mind. Note that the ones on the left are the original recruitment posters, and those on the right are my updated library tech versions.

On the left, original poster shows  WOW (Woman Ordnance Worker) holding drill and working in factory. Captions say "Do the job HE left behind" and "Apply U.S. Employment Service." On the right, new poster shows  librarian holding ipad in front of a computer monitor and working in a library. Captions say "Teach Tech" and "Your Country Needs You".

Poster # 1: Teaching technology is a patriotic duty

“Your Country Needs You.”

The Second World War necessitated the recruitment of courageous American women to roll up their sleeves and work in factories. Their contributions and service to the country are irrefutable. Although not to serve a war effort, modern library staff also need to become trailblazers and bravely step out of their comfort zones and take on work they haven’t traditionally been involved with. To ensure the vitality of the U.S. economy, there’s a need to provide American citizens of all ages opportunities to engage with STEM/STEAM programming as well as learn computer and coding skills. Libraries are crucial community partners in this effort and a great resource to support patrons in gaining the tech skills essential to future employment and civic participation. Think of it as a patriotic duty to teach technology.

Further reading on how libraries are currently teaching technology:

On the left, original poster shows  WOW (Woman Ordnance Worker) holding wrench and imagining a soldier in the clouds. Caption below says "The Girl He Left Behind is Still Behind Him. She's a WOW".  On the right, new poster shows determined librarian holding an ethernet cord and a copy of Diary of Wimpy Kid and imagining a family of kids in the clouds.  Caption below says "Get 'em to read, Get 'em high speed."

Poster # 2: Broadband is a library service equal to books

“Get ’em to read, get ’em high speed”

Improving the literacy of a community is a cornerstone of what libraries do, and it always will be. Libraries should unashamedly continue to be buildings filled with books, and library staff should be motivated to put those books in people’s hands to read. Humanity’s future relies on it. But there’s something new added to this already successful, civilization-saving mix that can’t be denied: broadband

For my second poster, I decided to start with the traditional image of a library staff member gripping a gateway book (in my case: “Diary of a Wimpy Kid”) and gazing with determined purpose at a group of youth with whom she hopes to foster a life-long love of reading. Then I added an ethernet cable to her other hand to give it equal weight in her objective. Providing free high speed Internet has become an important and critical service for libraries. The Homework Gap is preventing children who lack adoption of broadband at home to succeed in school. Libraries act as bridges, reaching across the divide to connect patrons to the information and services they need, even if it means providing a safe, Internet-connected place to get their homework done. Literacy now takes many forms: digital, media, information, etc. And libraries can boost their signal strength out into their communities in more ways than one.

Further reading on how libraries are getting folks high speed Internet access, and what they can do with it:

On the left, original poster shows determined WOW (Woman Ordnance Worker) with bomb shell in front of her and a graphic showing the different hats of the various wartime roles. Caption below says "She's a WOW". On the right, new poster shows determined librarian with WiFi modem in front of her and a graphic showing symbols of different crises (hurricanes, floods, earthquakes, wildfires, social unrest). Caption below says "Libraries Respond and Provide Refuge".

Poster # 3: Disaster Response

“Libraries respond and provide refuge”

When disasters, emergencies, and other crises strike, libraries stand strong in their communities as anchor institutions to provide immediate support. Besides acting as safe spaces for people to share news and resources, they are trusted curators of authoritative, often life-saving, information. The free electricity, WiFi, and computer access can be a crucial life-line to those who need it, particularly disadvantaged populations. Libraries also connect the affected to essential services, helping them fill out e-government forms. They help alleviate confusion and disorientation and provide distractions and entertainment so community members can take the necessary steps toward recovery.

It’s also worth nothing that it’s not just in the event of disasters that libraries respond and provide refuge They’re fair weather friends, too, and like Elsa, cold never bothered them anyway.

Further reading on how libraries can develop disaster response:

I will leave you with one more bonus poster, riffing on the idea that libraries are so much more than places to get books; they’re also communities’ technology hubs.

On the left, original poster has women working for the war effort at home with caption "Soldiers without guns". On the right, new poster has smiling librarians holding ipad, ethernet cord, iphone and computer, with caption "Librarians without books"

Apply NOW for E-rate funding with help from FREE consultants

It’s E-rate Season!

That means it’s time for accredited public libraries to apply for big discounts on their broadband services! Libraries are eligible to receive up to 90% on their monthly Internet access costs, plus equipment and cabling, through E-rate, the federal discount program which puts billions of dollars aside each year for schools and libraries.

The Filing Window to submit the second form, the Form 471, starts TODAY (January 15) and will close Wednesday, March 25, 2020 at 10:59 PM Central. This means that the first form, the Form 470, should be submitted asap in order to have time for the required 28 days of competitive bidding. The deadline for the Form 470 is February 26

E-rate funding becomes essential in enabling libraries to afford attaining basic national standards of broadband for their communities and to continue providing patrons efficient access to distance learning, e-government information, and employment opportunities.

Take advantage of FREE consultants this year!

This year, as part of TSLAC’s Libraries Connecting Texas project, accredited public libraries in Texas can use the free expertise of E-rate Central who will help them file the forms correctly and on time. 

NOTE: Last chance to get free, E-rate consultant help is Friday, February 1!

For more information about E-rate and getting started with the free help with LCT, please see TSLAC’s E-rate page or contact TSLAC’s E-rate Coordinator, Henry Stokes, at 512-463-6624, hstokes@tsl.texas.gov.

Logo for Libraries Connecting Texas Project

Need Costly Internet Equipment? New changes to E-rate provide libraries more funding

If you’re an accredited public library, there are two categories of funding you can apply for in E-rate, the federal program that pays you significant discounts (up to 90%) for your library’s Internet costs.

Category 1 covers the monthly costs to access the Internet from your provider, plus some special construction charges. It has no budget cap;

Category 2 covers cabling, equipment, licenses, and other services to support broadband at the library. It does have a budget. Here’s a list of all the goodies that you can get discounts on in Category 2:

  • Wireless Access Points/Wireless Controllers
  • Routers
  • Switches
  • Antennas (must be integral to the LAN/WAN)
  • Firewall Equipment
  • Internal Structured Cabling (unless solely dedicated to voice)
  • Caching Servers – (these are the only eligible servers)
  • Racks that house eligible equipment
  • UPS that support eligible equipment
  • Cloud-based functionality of eligible equipment
  • Licenses for eligible equipment (can apply for multi-year license in Year 1 of your contract)
  • Software that supports eligible equipment
  • Limited basic maintenance services for eligible equipment
  • Managed Internal Broadband Services (MIBS) – (see more below)
  • Taxes, surcharges and other similar reasonable charges
  • Shipping charges
  • Training on how to use eligible equipment
  • Installation and configuration (not required to be the equipment vendor)

For the last few years, Category 2 services have had a limited budget for you to use, based on the square footage of the library. The deadline to spend the amount allocated to your library was up in the air, until…

NEWSFLASH: Last week it was announced that Category 2 budgets are extended for the upcoming E-rate funding year (FY 2020) with an added 20% on top of that! And that in 2021, new rules will be implemented, including system wide budgets, a combined multiplier for all libraries, and a floor of $25,000, which is a significant increase from the last few years.

If you want to get potentially HUGE savings on your Internet equipment, cabling, and service, NOW is the time to look into applying for Category 2 of E-rate funding.

Contact Henry Stokes at 512-463-6624 if you need further information.



Calling all Texas public libraries: Take the 2019 TSLAC Public Library Speed Test!

The Texas State Library is currently collecting 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 that data to us at the State Library. The data will be invaluable in our planning and help us determine further statewide needs for broadband.

Photo of Fort Worth Public library public access computers
Fort Worth Public Library public access computers

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 Friday, December 13th. If you didn’t receive the invitation, please contact Henry Stokes, 512-463-6624 or ld@tsl.texas.gov.

Many thanks to those speedy libraries who’ve already participated this year!

animated words saying "Thank You!"

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

E-rate is a federal discount program that pays up to 90 percent of broadband costs for schools as well as accredited public libraries.

$4 billion is put aside each year by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) so that schools and libraries can keep providing and sustaining high speed Internet access for their students and patrons. It’s a recognition of the value of broadband provided by these anchor institutions to reduce the digital divide and the homework gap, contribute to workforce development, and support the economy. Often when the school or library gets fast speeds and showcases its value to the rest of the community, home adoption follows.

Gigabit fiber-optic is widely considered the gold standard of Internet connectivity for communities across the country who want to stay vibrant and future-ready. In Texas, the schools have been aggressive in getting fiber connectivity using their E-rate discounts. As you can see by this map of the fiber landscape, the number of FRNs (or Funding Requests) for fiber from E-rate puts our state near the very top.

Source: Solix

But we’re reaching those numbers in Texas because of the efforts of the schools, not the libraries.

With less than a third of Texas public libraries applying for E-rate each year, and most of them not requesting fiber, libraries are not staying apace with their school counterparts – even within the same communities and located right next door. I’ve seen maps of school district fiber rings, made possible with massive 90% discounts, set near public libraries, who are oblivious to the affordable gigabit fiber possibilities buried so close by. The fiber is often out there – but is the library taking advantage of it?

Right now, almost 30% of libraries in Texas are eligible for the maximum discount of 90% (determined by poverty level and urban/rural status) and almost half are eligible for 80%. That’s a lot of money sitting on the table each year that our libraries are not receiving.

Pie chart graph showing the libraries in Texas and their eligible E-rate discount.

We know the process to complete an E-rate application each year can be daunting, and this is why the numbers are low for libraries and not schools (who often have the necessary staff capacity or the funds to support consultants). That’s why the Texas State Library and Archives Commission (TSLAC) is continuing to support 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 2020 E-rate Funding Year.

Last year, 144 libraries in LCT successfully applied for $1.2 million in E-rate funding for an average bandwidth increase of 1053%. 

If you’re interested in participating in E-rate with TSLAC’s free consultants, there’s still time – but please hurry! Contact TSLAC E-rate Coordinator Henry Stokes, care of ld@tsl.texas.gov, or directly at 512-463-6624

Celebrate Digital Inclusion Week!

Last year, we celebrated digital inclusion week by releasing TSLAC’s Digital Inclusion Statement. This year, we want to encourage you to consider ways you’re helping your patrons connect with affordable technology once they leave the library.

For a quick recap, here’s are the five elements of digital inclusion according to the National Digital Inclusion Alliance:

  • affordable, robust broadband internet service
  • internet-enabled devices that meet the needs of the user
  • access to digital literacy training
  • quality technical support
  • applications and online content designed to enable and encourage self-sufficiency, participation and collaboration.

Libraries are digital inclusion champions in ensuring that their patrons have access to these five essentials while they’re in the library, but what about when they leave the library? Many libraries have helped patrons bridge the internet service access and affordability gap by lending WiFi hotspots, while others accompany those hotspots with devices like laptops or tablets. But how can libraries go further?

Join the Arizona State Library’s Digital Inclusion Librarian and TSLAC’s Digital Inclusion Consultant for a short webinar entitled Affordable Tech: Discount Internet & Devices for Your Library Patrons to find out more.

Day: Monday, October 7, 2019
Time: 1:00 pm CST
Description: Public libraries have long been involved in providing access to the internet and to technology for their communities, but in today’s increasingly online world, patrons still need access after the library has closed. For low-income households and homes of residents aged 65 and older, one access barrier may be affordability of service, not only availability. Tune in to this informative webinar to learn about discount internet & device offers that are available for your library patrons. 

This webinar is a part of Digital Inclusion Week (October 7-11, 2019). DIW aims to raise awareness of solutions addressing home internet access, personal devices and local technology training and support programs. DIW2019 is sponsored by the National Digital Inclusion Alliance representing more than 350 affiliated organizations in 44 states working toward digital equity.

This is an Arizona State Library webinar so please register at


Logo for Henry's Hightech Highlights

We can talk about virtual reality, self-driving cars, AI, and robots all day – but the truth of the matter is that none of these amazing technologies will work in the world as we all hope and envision unless we have one thing first. There’s a deceptively tiny word for this thing – two-characters: one number followed by one letter. But don’t be fooled: it’s HUGE.
Today’s highlight: 5G

What is it?

Short for Fifth Generation, 5G is the next wave of wireless network technology. 1G gave us the cell phone, 2G gave us the capability to send texts, 3G gave us mobile web, and 4G LTE made everything about 10 times faster. 5G hasn’t quite arrived on the scene just yet, but it’s supposed to be right around the corner. Your phone will be able to get 10 gigabits per second, which is 600 times faster than the typical 4G speeds on today’s mobile devices, and 10 times faster than Google Fiber’s standard home broadband service. By being this fast, it means we’ll be able to communicate in almost real-time, with 1 millisecond of lag.

But it’s not just our phones. The future, as envisioned in the concept of the ‘Internet of Things’, is going to be fully computerized and data-driven in all the devices and appliances within our environment – our thermostats, our cars, our streets, our cities. We’ll be going from 300 million connected devices to 3 billion, and many will have imbued intelligence with integrated voice control and ambient interfaces with the ability to personalize an experience for each unique user. Everything will talk to everything else, sending data back and forth. Even the trees will likely have sensors that communicate via a network. Right now, the only way we can reach the necessary speeds to bring about this new interconnected future is through a wired connection. But that won’t work, of course. Wires and cables can’t link everything up. The solution to all this is 5G wireless. Once 5G arrives, the science fiction future we imagine will be possible.

Without 5G, we will never see:

  • Smart cities
  • Self-driving cars
  • VR and AR on mobile devices
  • Remote surgeries via robots

5G is so exciting that in recent surveys, industrial companies rank it above Artificial Intelligence (AI) as an enabler of digital transformation. Its importance has caused the equivalent of a space race to begin. If a country gets to 5G first, Wired Magazine points out, “its burgeoning tech industry will create the next global mobile platform.” China having 5G would give them an edge in other important industries, too, such as AI. You’ve heard the expression: “The one who has the gold, has the power”? The reality is, “The one who has the data, has the power.” And 5G means more devices, and more devices on a network means more data, and since AI needs data for its training, more data means better AI. It all comes back to 5G. Potentially, it could also unify all services (wireless, wireline, and satellite) under a common digital structure.

Where are we now? And what does it take to get there?

Right now, the most privileged of us have 4G – which uses spread-out cell towers that can broadcast at great distances. It’s not capable of the speeds we need to reach though. To get 5G we will want to use “millimeter waves”, the very high end of the wireless spectrum, where there’s plenty of unused bandwidth. The problem is this technology is not good at long distances where there’s disruptions like trees, people, and even rain. To make it work, it requires a huge amount of access points, or base stations, rather than a few big cell towers. And those access points are connected to a wired network infrastructure, a fiber one. So despite calling 5G a wireless solution, it’s powered by fiber in the ground with a tiny cordless last mile. No fiber? No 5G.

Diagram that shows underground fiber cabling enabling 5G wireless with small cell technology.
5G requires frequent base stations supported by extensive underground fiber network

Here area few things to be aware of as we enter the Age of 5G:

> It will take longer to arrive than we think.

Although the year 2020 was thrown around for a while as the year 5G would make its appearance in our lives, it needs more time than that. Even now, Verizon and AT&T have launched what they’re calling 5G in some cities, but this may be deceptive as they’re still technically using 4G technologies. PC Mag writes, “AT&T has started to call its 4G network ‘5G Evolution,’ because it sees improving 4G as a major step to 5G. It’s right, of course. But the phrasing is designed to confuse less-informed consumers into thinking 5G Evolution is 5G, when it isn’t.” For AT&T, the 5G speeds will be capped at 2 Gbps. Very fast, but not quite the 10 Gigabits per second 5G is supposed to provide.

To make 5G happen it’s going to take a lot of investment and a massive deployment of hardware, which is all very time-consuming. 5G requires much smaller cell stations every few blocks in order to bring coverage, rather than the cell towers that 4G uses that could deploy signals for miles. It requires local approval, and there are often huge regulatory fights. Instead of thinking it’s going to launch next year, we should re-frame it as an investment for the next decade. Despite how fast it will be, 5G is going to be slow on arrival.

> It may widen the digital divide even further.

Can we really expect 5G to come to the rural and underprivileged areas any time soon? As Wired writes, “less oversight and fewer carriers could translate into higher prices and less availability for 5G… [and] without oversight, carriers might opt not to build 5G networks in low income or rural areas that could prove less profitable.”

As I mentioned before, the great wireless revolution requires a fiber backbone in the ground to run. Rural areas often don’t have the fiber that’s required.

Another frustrating possibility is that efforts to bring about 5G could actually reduce rural coverage even more than is already present:

“[To move to 5G] Verizon has recently discontinued activating 3G handsets and has been decommissioning 3G equipment, but not always replacing coverage in those areas, which leads to many people in the marginal coverage areas having no access at all.”

– Deborah Simpier for BroadbandBreakfast.com

The step to 5G could actually be skipping a step, since it’s not like the existing 4G is meeting the current needs across the country. It’s hard not to agree with Christopher Elliott who wrote in Forbes, “It would be nice if the providers could provide rural areas with consistent 4G service first.”

> It may be bad for your health.

Many have pointed out the possible health risks of having so many 5G cell stations and their electromagnetic radiation near people’s homes. Although they are often referred to as “small” and only the size of a pizza box, the technology to justify this terminology isn’t quite there yet. We can expect more of a refrigerator size for the time being. The aesthetics, psychological effects, and just general property value for the people living among these rows and rows of small fridges attached to practically every rooftop, utility pole and lamp post may have negative consequences on human and animal lives.

> It could throw off weather forecasting.

5G is on the same wavelength as weather forecasting so those using it would be competing with these services. This interference could decrease accuracy by 30% – setting us back four decades to the lower quality forecasts we had in the 1980s. It means you may not hear about the hurricane coming to your area in time. It’s a major concern recently brought up by NASA, NOAA, and others, and needs to be addressed.

> It could further threaten our personal data and privacy.

If 5G is what brings about the Internet of Things – with massive communication happening on a constant basis with our personal devices and the environment, then it could herald the beginning of intrusive digital advertising that occurs not just on the computer browsers within our homes, but out in the world as we’re moving about. Without oversight, marketers using this technology may not respect consumers’ privacy. Also, as Fast Company pointed out, with 5G’s smaller coverage areas, “anyone with access to your ISP’s cell tower data will be able to hone in on your exact location far more precisely than they can today under our 4G networks.” You will no longer connect to a distant 4G tower a mile way, but a 5G one right near you, and as you move around, you will quickly connect to the next one closest to you. Your whole path can then easily be tracked and your location accurately determined at any moment simply by knowing which 5G tower you’re next to at any given moment – even down to the building you’re in.

Graphic of a confused person

Final Note:

There are definitely issues with 5G to work out, but don’t let this list scare you. It’s best to be aware of what’s coming and face it head on. Don’t keep your head in the sand; stay vigilant, ask questions, and don’t fear the future. It’s our duty as librarians.

Remember that:

  • You personally don’t have to know everything
  • Everyone is learning
  • You just have to be open to finding the answers.

It’s the librarian way.