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Meeting of the Board of Regents | November 2010

Monday, November 1, 2010 - 9:55am

SED Seal                                                                                   



TO:                                         Cultural Education Committee

FROM:                                   Jeffrey W. Cannell

SUBJECT:                           Broadband for All at New York Libraries

DATE:                                    October 23, 2010

STRATEGIC GOAL:           4




Issue for Discussion

How will the Board of Regents work with the library community and others to support rapid improvement of high speed broadband connections at public libraries to increase access to E-Government services, job workforce development services, and other Internet-based services for use by New Yorkers of all ages?

Reason for Consideration

Many of New York’s public libraries lack adequate broadband connection speeds, yet more than 88% of these libraries are providing instruction in accessing E-Government services and job opportunity resources.

Proposed Handling

Lack of adequate broadband connectivity was last discussed with the Committee in February 2009.   State Library staff will provide the Committee with updated information regarding steps taken to date to reach New York State Governor’s Office for Technology-determined statewide connectivity goals and to implement the New York State Broadband Sustainability Plan for Libraries (URL: )

Background Information

The final report of the Regents Commission on Library Services, adopted by the Board of Regents in 2000 as Regents statewide policy for libraries, emphasized the need for libraries to meet the changing information needs of New Yorkers and the growing role of libraries’ technology services in meeting those needs.

Libraries serve an increasingly critical leadership role in telecommunications.  Many public libraries are already active community technology and digital literacy centers, providing free public access computers and education programs that prepare New Yorkers to take full advantage of the E-Government and economic services offered by federal, state and local governments. But much more needs to be done in the area of broadband connectivity.

A 2009-2010 study conducted by Florida State University (FSU) in conjunction with the American Library Association (ALA) surveyed the connectivity needs of New York’s public libraries. Over 90 percent of New York’s 1,080 public libraries and branches participated. Survey results show that library connectivity inadequacies are serious and widespread. Forty-eight percent of New York’s public libraries lack adequate connection speed yet survey respondents indicated that 88% of their libraries are providing instruction to their users related to E-Government services and job opportunity resources.

To help close the connectivity gap, the State Library has partnered with the Gates Foundation since 1998 along with federal and state agencies to provide funding to increase high-speed broadband connectivity in public libraries.  The State Library and key partners have initiated four statewide funding initiatives thus far to improve broadband access to New Yorkers through local public libraries.

  • Broadbandexpress@yourlibrary, funded at $9.5 million in 2010 by the National Telecommunications and Information Agency through the federal stimulus Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP) will create public access computer centers in 30 public libraries and 5 E-Mobile computer training vans in 41 upstate counties.  The purpose of these centers will be to offer workforce development services, E-Government services, and digital literacy instruction to vulnerable populations.  This program will end in 2013. 
  • A State Universal Broadband Access Grant, funded at $235,500 by the Governor’s Office for Technology with state funds to improve broadband access for the public through 6 public libraries and neighborhood branches located in high-need rural areas of the state with no broadband access.  This program ends in December 2010.
  • Gates Foundation 2009-2011 Opportunity Online Broadband Access Grant of $1 million to improve connectivity speeds in public libraries having a less than 1.5 Mbps Internet connection speed. This program involves 65 public libraries, some of which still had dial-up connections.  As of August 2010, marking the end of the program’s first year, all 65 libraries have had their Internet connections upgraded, many beyond the minimum 1.5Mbps level to 5, 10, and even 50 Mbps.  This program ends in 2011. 
  • A Gates Foundation 2007-2009 Opportunity Online Hardware Grant, worth $6.1 million, provided computer hardware and software to public libraries serving high need communities with a poverty level of 10% or more.  3,229 computers and peripherals were placed in 421 participating libraries. An Impact Report published in 2010 highlights program accomplishments and makes recommendations for the use of future broadband funding.

Currently, New York State’s 1,080 public libraries and branches receive no direct annual state funding specifically for technology purposes. Most public libraries already have trouble maintaining their current level of technology services, and are unable to upgrade technology without receiving some help to obtain broadband access or upgrade their current access.


The Regents continue to work with the library community and others to support current efforts to create or enhance broadband capabilities in libraries and to assist in the implementation of the New York State Broadband Sustainability Plan for Libraries which includes a $22 million capital broadband request for 2011-2012.