On July 13, the Schools, Health & Libraries Broadband (SHLB) Coalition released a plan that doubles as a call to action — to make gigabit speeds a priority for anchor institutions across the nation.
The anchor institutions included in the SHLB's Connecting Anchor Institutions: A Broadband Action Plan (PDF) include schools, community colleges and other institutions of higher learning.
The plan addresses goal No. 4 set forth in the FCC's March 2010 National Broadband Plan: That every American community should have affordable access to at least 1 gigabit per second broadband service to anchor institutions.
Gigi Sohn, counselor to FCC Chairman Tom Wheeler, encouraged a room full of stakeholders to share the action plan, and said that as a federal agency, there’s a greater challenge for the FCC to create relationships in communities.
“There’s only so much the FCC can do,” she said. “Help us show to others what works and what doesn’t.”
Action Plan Policy PapersCommunity Anchor Institutions and Residential Broadband Adoption
The plan includes 10 policy papers that focus on connectivity gaps and illustrate how broadband access is critical for all communities. The plan itself outlines recommendations for government leaders at every level to address the broadband needs of anchor institutions.
“This action plan is about action,” said SHLB Executive Director John Windhausen at the Alliance for Excellent Education’s press conference. “Each paper recommends positive steps that federal, state and local government officials can take to move the needle and ensure the remaining anchor institutions obtain better, faster and cheaper broadband connections in the next four years.”
Although the papers address specific topics to meet this goal, there are three common strategies among them:
1. Sharing: boosting public-private partnerships to bring groups together in creating a comprehensive broadband strategy.
2. Competitive options: letting anchor institutions choose the technologies and providers that best meet their needs.
3. Funding: consider grants, loans and private-sector capital to fund network build-out and reduce monthly service fees.
At the press conference, Adrianne Furniss, executive director of the Benton Foundation, said that because we live in a global economy, every American must be able to contribute to the country’s prosperity in education, civic dialog and cultural institutions.
“If we want every American to be able to make these contributions and take full advantage of the vast opportunities that broadband can deliver,” she said, "we need to focus on bridging the critical gaps in our digital infrastructure and on closing the nagging and persistent divides in digital haves and digital have-nots.”
One aspect that makes this plan unique is that it is not examining a silo or single sector. The 10 papers leverage different groups that are all working to service anchor institutions.
Bob Collie, senior vice president of strategy at Education Networks of America, said that the success of the plan is all about the applications.
“You can put the biggest pipe into a location, but without the right thought, without the right connectivity, without the right resources, without the right outcomes, you can’t actually deliver on the promise that we’re trying to do,” he said. “We have 10 papers in this action plan, and we know every community is unique, so this is not a prescriptive plan that you have to follow all 10 steps.”
Each paper summarizes the issue, outlines examples, proposes steps to address the problem, and offers resources for further exploration. The action plan’s executive summary describes each paper as a “playbook” to achieve bringing gigabit connectivity to anchor institutions across the country.
“Without a doubt, the task to connect community anchor institutions to gigabit broadband is a daunting one,” Sohn said. “But regardless, it is one that we must take on together for the benefit of our communities and our country.”