libraryFive states will take part in a two-year initiative launched this week that aims to develop strategies to increase broadband capacity to local libraries. The Library E-rate Assessment Planning (LEAP) initiative, spearheaded by the American Library Association and the Chief Officers of State Library Agencies (COSLA), will focus on Alaska, California, Iowa, Kentucky and North Dakota.

According to an ALA press release, the five states were chosen based on criteria such as a state-level commitment to increasing broadband capacity in state libraries, as well as a local environment conducive to developing “creative solutions replicable in other states.”

The LEAP Broadband Library Program
Specific LEAP goals include:

  • Developing a broadband capacity vision and goals for each state
  • Developing a baseline assessment to identify barriers to increasing broadband capacity
  • Addressing the broadband capacity gap among libraries in each state, with a focus on reaching benchmarks adopted by the FCC
  • Developing tools for local libraries to successfully participate in the E-rate program
  • Documenting the impact of LEAP broadband library strategies on local library broadband capacity

The benchmarks that the ALA references call for broadband speeds of at least 100 Mbps for libraries serving communities with populations below 50,000 and 1 Gbps for libraries serving more populous communities. The nation has a considerable way to go to meet those goals, as more than 82% of libraries nationwide – including 96% of rural libraries – have capacity of less than 100 Mbps. But achieving the goal should be easier now that the FCC has freed up additional funding toward broadband connectivity for schools and libraries as part of Universal Service program reforms.

The LEAP broadband library initiative had its genesis in what the ALA called a “quiet paragraph” in the FCC’s Second E-Rate Modernization Order adopted in December of 2014. In that paragraph, the FCC called on the Universal Service Administration Company (USAC), which administers the Universal Service program, to work with existing state-level entities to provide technical support and to develop best practices to assist applicants whose lack of expertise is a barrier to full participation in the E-rate program.

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