Schools, libraries and health-care providers in the U.S. need broadband speeds of 100M bps to 1G bps in order to adequately serve their customers' needs, according to a new coalition pushing for "big" broadband for those organizations.
The Schools, Health and Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition -- with 28 members including the New America Foundation, the American Library Association, the American Hospital Association and Microsoft -- will push U.S. federal, state and local governments to consider the needs of those organizations when designing broadband deployment plans.
"High-speed broadband is the key infrastructure that K-12 schools, universities, libraries, hospitals, clinics and other health-care providers need to provide 21st-century education, information and health services," said John Windhausen, coordinator of the coalition. "These institutions serve the most vulnerable segments of our population: rural, low-income, disabled, elderly consumers, students and many others."
Coalition members partially formed the group in response to the US$7.2 billion available for broadband deployment in a huge economic stimulus package approved by Congress earlier this year. Several states are working on broadband proposals, and the U.S. Federal Communications Commission is putting together a national broadband plan, meaning the "time was ripe" for the coalition, Windhausen said.
Schools, libraries and health-care providers are anchor institutions in communities, and affordable, high-speed broadband will not only benefit their direct customers but also surrounding neighborhoods through shared networks, said Michael Calabrese, director of the Wireless Future Program at the New America Foundation, a Washington, D.C., think tank.
"The most promising public investment, given limited resources, would be high-capacity fiber networks connecting community anchor institutions in every local jurisdiction," Calabrese said during a press conference. "By becoming both technology hubs and bringing fiber deep into every community, schools, libraries and health-care providers will [bring] affordable broadband access to everyone."
The purpose of the coalition is mainly to raise visibility of the needs of schools, libraries and health-care providers, but not to directly apply for broadband grants, Windhausen said. Small schools, libraries and health-care providers need at least 100M bps speeds to adequately do their jobs, and large organizations need 1G bps for applications such as telemedicine and distance learning, he said.
Nearly all U.S. libraries have Internet connections, but many public libraries are swamped with people who want to use the connections, said Lynne Bradley, director of government relations for the American Library Association. Many libraries' wireless networks are often overloaded and at many times, library patrons have to wait to use computers, she said.
Many patrons use bandwidth-heavy applications, she said.
"We are unserved or we are underserving our population, the American public, when we do not have adequate broadband and advanced, big broadband coming into our libraries," Bradley said. "You can see this with the lines out the door, the waiting lists. If you have lines out the door ... it's surely inadequate."