With increasing frequency, many rely on public libraries for free Internet access. These centrally located centers are particularly important for those who cannot afford online connections. As vital places providing equal opportunities for learning, public libraries need to offer digital services that are up to speed for eager learners of all ages.
As “Broadband Quality in Public Libraries” notes:
“From e-books to e-government services to distance learning, more of the information and services people seek and use in our nation’s public libraries are delivered and shared via wired and wireless broadband networks. Documenting and analyzing public library technology infrastructure and how it is used to enable digital inclusion in communities nationwide is the central purpose of the Digital Inclusion Survey and related predecessor research efforts. This research subsequently informs library policy advocacy related to the federal E-rate program and other national broadband and technology efforts, as well as providing context for state and local digital inclusion planning.”
In July 2014, the American Library Association (ALA) and the Information Policy and Access Center (iPAC) at the University of Maryland published the first report of the Digital Inclusion Survey. A key finding was that 98% of public libraries provide no-fee wi-fi access and an average of 20 computers.
According to the survey, public libraries were subscribed to the Internet at the following speeds in 2013:
- 1.5 Mbps or less: 10.4%
- 1.6 Mbps: 39.8%
- > 10 Mbps: 49.8%
In general, libraries also reported some improvements in their public internet speeds. Approximately 10% of libraries used speeds of 1.5 Megabits per second or less compared with 23% two years earlier. However, they were still below the goals, which the E-rate Modernization proceeding and in the National Broadband Plan had set (with about 2% of libraries with 1 Gigabit per second speeds).
Here are some of the other findings:
- Only about half of all libraries reported subscribed Internet download speeds greater than 10 Mbps, with city libraries generally skewing on the higher end (about 27% with subscribed speeds of 100 Mbps or higher).
- Rural libraries were generally skewing on the lower end (about 3% with speeds of 100 Mbps or higher).
- Two-thirds of all libraries indicated they would like to improve their broadband speeds.
In addition, the summer 2014 supplementary study tested broadband quality at 2,251 libraries. The data indicated:
“While the trend for library internet speeds continues to improve, the quality of public access to the internet still lags targets for modern library services. These speed test findings suggest libraries have more work ahead to improve their base subscribed broadband speeds, wireless networks and overall network management to bring a more consistent quality of service to communities nationwide. A gap remains between current speeds of public library networks and the recent gigabit goal for libraries and schools adopted by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC).”
This national survey about Internet use in libraries resulted in several other important conclusions. These include the following points:
- America’s public library leaders are becoming more knowledgeable about their technology infrastructure.
- Approximately 30% of public libraries still didn’t know their subscribed or actual point-in-time broadband speeds.
- Further assessment of the quality of broadband services in public libraries is needed to develop the E-rate program into the future.
Complete survey information is available online at http://digitalinclusion.umd.edu/.
More Information About Improved Broadband Services
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