Bringing "fiber to the library"

By many measures, much of the United States continues to lag behind other developed countries in terms of broadband penetration and speed -- but it's not for a lack of good ideas. Take Don Means' "Fiber to the Library" (FTTL) proposal, which would equip every one of our nation's 16,548 public libraries with a 100+ Mbps Internet connection. This morning I was fortunate enough to hear Don discuss details of these plans at a forum sponsored by ITIF.

For centuries, libraries have provided a tremendous public service, allowing Americans to access useful information in their free and open facilities. What better way to continue and expand that mission in the 21st century than to provide every library in the United States with a high-speed fiber connection to the Web?

Deploying FTTL is a bold yet achievable concept that promises a number of tangible benefits. It would deliver high-performance Internet applications to communities across the country quickly and equitably, serving pre-schoolers and senior citizens alike -- not to mention millions of folks who don't have or can't afford Internet access at home. Libraries with fiber connections also could be transformed into virtual technology hubs, offering multiple ways for people to interact with new forms of IT services. Fiber-equipped libraries even can become their own communications nodes, from which any number of providers could further expand high-performance broadband infrastructure into surrounding neighborhoods now lacking such access.

There are several possible ways to help make FTTL a reality. For example, the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (ARRA) sets aside $7.2 billion to improve the nation's broadband infrastructure, with no less than $200 million explicitly allocated to expand capacity for computer centers at public libraries and other community-based institutions. Don and his partners estimate it would cost on average only about $20,000 to wire each of our public libraries with fiber connectivity. Policymakers as a start should resolve to distribute ARRA funds to local anchor institutions like libraries that will use emerging broadband technologies in ways that most directly benefit our nation's communities.