Q&A that followed this presentation: vimeo.com/9892111

Paraphrases of Q and A from FCC study briefing, 2 Mar 2010

Q. I have a wireless license but I haven't built a network yet; how can I serve underserved communities?

A. There is $7.2bn available through the BTOP/BIP applications. Partnerships between libraries and service providers can be successful applications.
Q. Were responses different between people who had and hadn't used the internet?

A. 90% of respondents had previously used the internet, though there was a wide skill range. There is a huge interest in getting online, especially for those whose families and social netowkrs are online.

Q. Is cost more important to some particular groups than others? Relevancy?

A. Only one respondent did not mention cost in the conversation. Relevancy is irrelevant as a factor if you need to get online for the things you need to do. Some would have a job not requiring computer skills, get laid off, and need to use the computer to find another job not requiring computer skills. Also, the sample skewed young, while relevancy is more of an issue for older populations.

Q. Are librarians receiving education in digital literacy and teaching digital literacy?

A. Yes, library schools are keeping pace with new technologies. Kids need school librarians to get a 21st century education, but those positions are being cut; they need more, not less. You can't just droplift a computer somewhere and expect it will immediately be useful; people need training in digital literacy.

Q. Where did you get your sample?

A. A variety of people. Less than half of the sample came through libraries and other community centers with internet; the rest came through organizations with no explicit connection to internet services. There were no real differences in responses between groups.

Q. Is Round 2 of BTOP going to be a major source of revenue for libraries and community centers?

A. Not a revenue source, but it could be a sustaining source. Many libraries have inadequate bandwidth for their needs, and additional funding will help sustain that service. (Round 1 focused on residential service, not anchor institutions.)

Q. Does everyone agree that it is important to educate people who don't think the internet is relevant to them?

A. There is not much of a relevance issue. Many people were not enthusiastic about getting online, but everyone agreed it was necessary. (Even in homeless shelters where access was several limited, or rural communities with no electricity and running water, people wanted to use the internet.) Many people find using the internet frustrating, especially e-government services; many are afraid their inexperience will lead to missed benefits or other financial consequences. Those who do say the internet is not relevant may really have a skills issue, who would find the internet relevant if they had the skills needed to use it.

It is a challenge to answer this type of question coming in with predetermined categories of people; one strength of this study is that first we spoke to people and then tried to fit them into categories.

Q. What opportunities and limitations are there for mobile services for low-income communities?

A. In some places cellular service is the only connectivity available; there is no broadband. Most respondents, if forced to choose only one service bill to pay, would keep their cell phone. We didn't dig deeply into the mobile internet question. However, it is clear connectivity solutions will need to be flexible; there is not just one solution that will work for all populations.

Additionally, all respondents had complaints about their service providers, usually related to cost transparency.

Q. Do you have recommendations for increasing in-home broadband to reduce the burden on libraries?

A. Even those who have broadband at home depend on libraries and community centers for some services. Libraries have additional resources and trained librarians to help users get information, especially inexperienced users, and they are centers for social interaction. The FCC data shows that in-home users also use public institutions. These institutions provide the social infrastructure needed for people to gain computer skills.

Q. Is there any data on the transition of services from offline to online-only?

A. We are trying to get it but it is incomplete. For example, we know 5 states have online-only unemployment benefit applications. Because of rising costs many government agencies are looking to more to electronic services. Also, even where offline services are available, they are understaffed and cannot meet demand. The government recommends that people use the libraries to access online government services; the library is the first resort and last refuge for people needing these services.

Q. What are the next steps for the FCC on broadband?

A. Finalizing recommendations for the National Broadband Plan. this report is helping us think about local solutions, local infrastructure, and local adoption programs. This is one of many studies the FCC has commissioned to help us think about these issues.

Q. What proportion of low-skill jobs require applicants to apply online? Is it different in different sectors?

A. We don't have data; that would be a good followup. We do know that in 2006 over 44% of the top in-store retailers only accepted online applications.
Q. Is there granular information on the amount of bandwidth available to libraries and community centers? How big an issue is this?

A. We visited several places and found this was a problem. (ALA has more detailed data.) The best place we visited was Philadelphia. In most places, there was never enough capacity, especially not in the rush immediately after school; service was slow and could not support all of the simultaneous users. It is still the best connectivity some people have. The percentage of libraries saying the service they have is inadequate is increasing.

Q. How many libraries use commercial providers for connectivity?

A. ALA has this data.

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