Celebrating 20 years of telecom

The American Library Association and
Libraries Celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Telecom Act

When the 1996 Telecommunications Act was signed into law, only 28% of libraries provided public internet access.  Libraries have experienced a dizzying two decades of innovations enabled by the Act and the E-rate program it created.

ALA 20 year telecom anniversaryLibraries were named one of seven major application areas for the National Information Infrastructure in a 1994 task force report:

For education and for libraries, all teachers and students in K-12 schools and all public libraries—whether in urban suburban, or rural areas; whether in rich or in poor neighborhoods—need access to the educational and library services carried on the NII. All commercial establishments and all workers must have equal access to the opportunities for electronic commerce and telecommuting provided by the NII. Finally, all citizens must have equal access to government services provided over the NII.

In his 1997 State of the Union address, President Clinton called for all schools and libraries to be wired by 2000. The nation came close: 96% of libraries were connected by that time.

Then, as now, libraries report that their bandwidth and number of public computers available were unable to meet patron demand at least some of the time. Libraries, like the nation as a whole, also continue to see disparities among urban, suburban and rural library connectivity.

According to a 2013 Pew Internet Project report, the availability of computers and internet access now rivals book lending and reference expertise as vital library services. Seventy-seven percent of Americans say free access to computers and the internet is a “very important” service of libraries, compared with 80 percent who say borrowing books and access to reference librarians are “very important” services.

Celebrate the 20th anniversary of the Telecom Act (hashtag #96×20) and share how #librariestransform with high-speed broadband all this week.