Schools, Libraries, Health Groups Launch Campaign to Tell FCC to Improve Connectivity

Slow internet connections are hampering the future of education and limiting libraries and health organizations, according to a coalition of schools, libraries and health groups in a campaign launched Thursday.

The Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition is urging the Federal Communications Commission to make emergency improvements to its Business Data Services (BDS) order to include high-capacity broadband lines. The new campaign is called #NoBufferBrains, and the coalition also released a video Thursday addressing the need for better bandwidth at schools. SHLB also advocates for better connectivity at other “anchor institutions,” such as hospitals, health clinics and libraries.

“Providing fast, affordable internet is the best way to improve education and lift community anchor institutions into the future,” said John Windhausen, executive director of the SHLB Coalition, in a statement. “Failing to include schools, hospitals, health clinics and libraries in the FCC’s business data services proceeding would be a huge missed opportunity.”

That proceeding is scheduled for Nov. 16, Windhausen said.

Originally, the FCC pledged to have a technology-neutral approach that would have benefited anchor institutions by lowering their costs, providing more choices and encouraging deployment and availability of high-speed internet connections. But at the last minute, the proposal was weakened to focus only on older technologies, or TDM lines, and pass on providing price relief for Ethernet customers, the SHLB Coalition said.

SHLB is specifically calling on the FCC to regulate both TDM and Ethernet services at or below 50 Mbps in an equivalent manner to help smaller and rural institutions obtain more affordable broadband connections.

In a conference call Thursday, representatives from rural hospitals and libraries expressed frustration about slow internet speeds and lack of competition and providers in smaller markets. 

“Many of our libraries still have dial up,” said Robert Bocher of the Wisconsin Department of Public Instruction and senior fellow at the American Library Association. “We want our libraries to have adequate systems at affordable costs.”

Representatives of the FCC could not be reached Thursday for comment.

In addition to the video, SHLB released a series of facts about schools, libraries, hospitals and health clinics’ Ethernet use to make their case:

  • Ethernet services account for at least 71 percent of E-rate funded services purchased by schools and libraries.
  • Small and rural schools and libraries do not have the competitive choices available to larger and urban institutions. The Consortium for School Networking (CoSN) found that 54 percent of rural schools had only one provider of broadband service.
  • 88 percent of rural health clinics have 50 Mbps connections or less.
  • Telehealth networks provide almost all of their health clinics and hospitals with broadband connections based on Ethernet connections, not TDM.

During Thursday’s conference call, Windhausen cited evidence from the state of New Jersey that, after high-speed broadband was installed, attendance improved 7 percent and the number of children who said they enjoyed school tripled. The data was collected and presented in a Washington, D.C. briefing by the State Educational Technology Directors Association (SETDA).

For more information on the #NoBufferBrains campaign, visit the SHLB website.

About the Author

Richard Chang is associate editor of THE Journal. He can be reached at [email protected].