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The Magazine of Digital Library Research

D-Lib Magazine

May/June 2017
Volume 23, Number 5/6
Table of Contents


At the Edges of the National Digital Platform

Sharon Strover, University of Texas at Austin
sharon.strover [at]

Brian Whitacre, Oklahoma State University
brian.whitacre [at]

Colin Rhinesmith, Simmons College
crhinesmith [at]

Alexis Schrubbe, University of Texas at Austin
adschrubbe [at]



Libraries straddle the information needs of the 21st century. The wifi, computers and now mobile hotspots that some libraries provide their patrons are gateways to a broad, important, and sometimes essential information resources. The research summarized here examines how rural libraries negotiate telecommunications environments, and how mobile hotspots might extend libraries' digital significance in marginalized and often resource-poor regions. The Internet has grown tremendously in terms of its centrality to information and entertainment resources of all sorts, but the ability to access the Internet in rural areas typically lags that experienced in urban areas. Not only are networks less available in rural areas, they also often are of lower quality and somewhat more expensive; even mobile phone-based data plans — assuming there are acceptable signals available — may be economically out of reach for people in these areas. With older, lower income and less digitally skilled populations typically living in rural areas, the role of the library and its freely available resources may be especially useful. This research examines libraries' experiences with providing free, mobile hotspot-based access to the Internet in rural areas of Maine and Kansas.

Keywords: National Digital Platform, Rural Libraries, Digital Infrastructure Hotspot


1 The Problem

Across years of studying the communications infrastructure and opportunities in rural regions around the United States, our research team has visited dozens of libraries in small towns. They were usually tiny — just a couple of rooms — with dedicated librarians, small budgets, and invariably a few computers providing Internet access. Along with the local school, rural libraries typically have been a community mainstay in these towns. Even with abbreviated hours, they represent a place that welcomes everyone, that functions as a gateway to information, access and even entertainment, and increasingly a site for connecting people with the Internet.

Our current IMLS project examines small town libraries that are sharing the Internet through loaned hotspots. While many libraries in major cities such as Minneapolis, Chicago, Kansas City and Seattle have been experimenting with providing people access to the Internet through these devices that use cell phone connectivity to link personal devices to the network, few rural libraries had explored them.

Historically, building fast networks in rural areas was a hit-and-miss proposition: the population densities to make them financially attractive were absent, and local phone or cable companies often were not motivated to upgrade networks in order to keep pace with the bandwidth needs of streaming content. Beyond networks being less available, the costs for Internet services often have proved beyond what rural populations are able to pay. In the 21st century, the demographics of U.S. rural areas in general are skewed toward older and poorer households. The general adoption of broadband in rural areas has consistently lagged that of urban regions since the early 2000s. Even with concerted investment of around $9 billion through two federal programs under President Obama's American Recovery and Reinvestment Act (2009), both available networks and robust adoption are wanting in many rural areas.1 One program was specifically dedicated to rural regions through the Department of Agriculture's Rural Utility Service office, but the "problems" continue.2

Libraries straddle the information needs of the 21st century with telecommunications networks. Historically, they have been in the forefront of social institutions that have sought to provide access to information and access to opportunity to American populations across the country. First with computers, later with Internet access and then internal and freely available wifi networks, libraries have consistently reinvented their services in order to promote the best access to information services that people want. Given the problems associated with Internet access in rural areas, these services are especially important there, where there are fewer alternatives in terms of network access and where affordability concerns exist. Small rural libraries provide rural populations with the same content and services that serve urban populations. Loaning devices such as hotspots that can enable free access to the Internet for library patrons is a logical extension of the service model that has been in place for some time.

If the National Digital Platform addresses the array of digital applications, social and technical infrastructure, and learning opportunities provided by libraries, extending Internet access to patrons for home or mobile use is a way of taking the library into people's lives in a new but recognizable fashion. In particular, as people are increasingly dependent on the Internet for a range of educational, health and social services (as well as enrichment) needs, improving the quality of their ability to use networks while outside of the physical library represents another way to meet users' needs. In this sense the national digital platform exists all around us, but if some people cannot use it for reasons of network access, quality, or cost, finding ways to bring the network to them becomes important.


2 The Research Project

This is where Internet hotspots become interesting. Our IMLS project grew out of Strover's work with the New York Public Library hotspot program, the largest in the country. There, 10,000 hotspots were loaned to people who lacked a home broadband connection; this meant that it was primarily targeting lower income households, and the system made a concerted effort to reach families with school-age children, expecting the hotspots to be a tool to address homework gap issues. As Strover worked with the hotspot users, it seemed clear how helpful the devices had been to people: patrons reported not simply a range of uses but also feeling more competent and competitive. The hotspots eased a lot of the difficulties people experience navigating a complicated and busy environment with increasing social, work, and service expectations that one interact or respond online.

The New York program funneled Knight Foundation funding to Kansas and Maine, and then these states developed their own programs with different providers (Verizon in Kansas and US Cellular in Maine) and their own policies. With an opportunity to compare urban experiences with hotspots to rural experiences, our IMLS proposal took shape as a study that examines how rural libraries address the challenges of Internet connectivity with hotspot lending programs. Our team includes people specializing in communications technology (Dr. Sharon Strover and her team), information sciences (Dr. Colin Rhinesmith and his team at Simmons), and rural economics (Dr. Brian Whitacre and his team at Oklahoma State University). This interdisciplinary group maximizes opportunities to see some new connections across the institutional role of libraries in rural settings as they use new technologies to provide new information resources.

The investigation is set in the context of patchy Internet options in many rural towns, as well as — similar to New York — people with limited means to afford a fixed home connection from a cable, satellite or phone company. The State Library of Kansas decided to give their 95 hotspots (sometimes called MiFi's) to 18 libraries in areas that are for the most part very rural and located all over the state; their populations range from 546 to 16,000. Maine focused on six libraries in Washington county on the Canadian border, with somewhat smaller populations (the largest was 3,123, all the others under 1,400 people). The county covers 3,258 square miles and in 2010 had a total population of 32,856. The county has the highest unemployment rate in the state (Sunrise Economic Development Council, 2016).

Our research aims to contribute both theoretical and practical knowledge that addresses (1) the role of rural libraries in their information ecosystems; (2) how loaned hotspots contribute to users' quality of life, digital literacy and social capital; (3) how such programs interact with other anchor institutions and their services (schools, government, etc.) within their communities, and (4) the practical, operational requirements and considerations for offering hotspot lending programs. The changing role of the library is at the heart of our research, and the rural context invokes issues of economic development, community sustainability, and the sorts of institutional collaborations, especially with schools, that enable these communities to remain vital.

We sought the counsel of several organizations and individuals and formed an Advisory Board composed of representatives from the State Libraries of Maine and Kansas, and also the program manager for the NYPL hotspot project. We also enlisted the helpful advice of Mobile Beacon, a nonprofit that has worked to create computer, broadband and digital inclusion programs at several libraries and schools around the country, as well as scholars working on linking urban and rural institutions such as community colleges to Internet-based training programs. Advocacy organizations such as the Center for Rural Strategies, the Small and Rural Library Association, and the American Library Association also contribute. Our project blog helps to keep our Advisory Board updated on the investigation. We anticipate the results of this research would be useful to libraries of all sizes as well as to people interested in rural economic development and the health of rural towns and regions. It also will deepen our understanding of how Internet access works — or does not work — in non-metropolitan environments.

The actual research began in the summer of 2016 when we visited 24 of the libraries involved in the hotspot programs and interviewed librarians there; we also interviewed local stakeholders such as school and economic development officials and state program officers in roles related to the rural libraries' mission. Qualitative data informed our understanding of how well the program operated and factors that seem to contribute to success. Additionally, we have conducted three focus groups with hotspot patrons to date, all of them in Kansas. Those discussions reflected not only on the utilities of the hotspots but also on the precarious condition of Internet access in rural regions. From those focus groups, we offer some tentative conclusions regarding the library and the hotspot roles in substituting for or augmenting a paid, personal subscription to either a mobile phone data plan or a fixed line Internet access plan such as those offered by local cable or phone companies.

IMLS data show that 43% of all libraries are rural and small, and that means fewer technology resources (Swan et al., 2013). Real et al. (2014) report that about 70% of rural libraries constitute the only free Internet access in their communities, underscoring their importance. All of the libraries we visited offered wifi, in-library computers and Internet access. How did these rural libraries manage computer and Internet access, and how did hotspots "fit" into their mission? Why did users check out hotspots, and how did they figure in routine patterns of seeking information or entertainment?

While we still have data to gather, some preliminary observations based on qualitative interviews with librarians and local and state-level stakeholders as well as three focus groups with hotspot patrons contribute to preliminary thoughts on (1) the quality of rural connectivity; (2) management structures associated with operating distributed (statewide or county-wide) programs; (3) the issue of scale in rural environs; (4) how rural libraries serve their communities; (5) homework gaps issues; and (6) the broader matter of the rural information system that serves libraries, schools, businesses and other institutions.


3 Preliminary Results


3.1 Do hotspots 'work'? Simply connect...

The State library systems in both Maine and Kansas were pleased to offer hotspots to a handful of rural libraries. The approach in Kansas was that they would offer devices and the accompanying data plan to libraries for one year and then let individual libraries determine whether or not to continue with them. If libraries wanted to continue, they also would have to find their own funding. The number of hotspots allocated to Kansas' 18 individual libraries was typically low — the highest number in any one library was eight hotspots — and initially there was a data limit of 6G per month on the service. After complaints and negotiation, the provider, Verizon, altered the plan to unlimited data. Most Kansas libraries chose to loan out the devices for a period of one week, and waiting lists became common (and lengthy in some instances).

Maine allocated its 80 devices among just six libraries but constructed a two-year hotspot plan linked to a statewide educational program called the Maine Learning Technology Initiative. The 'MLTI' as it is called is premised on insuring that K-12 public school students have access to an electronic device (typically a tablet or laptop, available to 7th or 8th graders) and that teachers have technical support in order to develop curriculum appropriate to digital access. The ideas behind Maine's hotspot program are that it would pair with the MLTI program to make sure that families with students who had a MLTI device would be eligible for the hotspots, thus remedying the problem of getting homework premised on easy Internet access but not having that access at home in order to actually complete the homework. The data plan associated with US Cellular is more limited than that of Verizon's in Kansas: they provide data capped at 2.5G per month, and when the device reached the cap it shut down.

On the straightforward question of whether hotspots "work," we found clear results: where good cell phone signals exists, they work and are relatively easy to use. Both states chose providers with supposedly good coverage in their respective regions; however, it was clear that coverage is a very granular experience. Coverage maps that are publicly available from the FCC, for example, represent aggregated data, and we find they typically overstate both the number of providers available for residential and small business uses as well as actual locations they reach.

In Kansas, a few locations came up short in terms of signal reach. There, the libraries returned their devices to the State Library because they simply did not function. In Maine, the same issue occurred, although their experience also underscores the fact that coverage can change; signal strength and location can vary when antennas are removed or shifted, and this appears to be something that occurred in Maine, where two libraries found that earlier positive hotspot experiences evaporated a few months later when signals were just not available.

The hotspot programs in both states worked where there was good signal strength with the contracted provider. That said, there were environments where patrons said they would have preferred to work with some other local entity (such as a local telephone company); this reflected familiarity and trust in local companies even though there were few complaints about either Verizon or US Cellular when those companies could indeed provide a signal.


3.2 Management

How the libraries dealt with the problem of hotspots not working also leads to some early conclusions having to do with management and communication. In Kansas, there was a management team in the State Library in Topeka that asked participating libraries to join monthly webinars in order to get updated information, share ideas and debug problems. Issues of signal availability were able to be investigated (although not always actually solved), and the hotspots in nonworking environments were moved to other locations because appropriate information was shared in the webinars. The State Library also intervened with Verizon to solve questions about the hotspots and to negotiate for a better data plan in the face of complaints.

The Kansas program was designed to last for one year, after which participating libraries could make their own decisions about continuing (and using their own funds to do so). Eleven libraries decided to continue with it, using their own funds. While the State Library has nothing to do with the continuation, Kansas rural libraries do have people there they can call for advice, and they are supported in technology issues by Regional Library Systems mentioned below.

In Maine, however, there was no central authority doing routine technical follow-up with the libraries. Consequently, hotspots in some locations were abandoned or forgotten, residing in a box under a librarian's desk in some cases. Their program was designed to last for two years (technically ending at the close of 2016), and subcontractor Axiom Technologies helped out in some instances when poor connectivity became an issue. However, the lesson from Kansas appears to be that routine, systematic checks-ins are essential if libraries are to participate in such programs, especially when programs demand new tasks and offer a certain number of unknowns.

Another aspect of management that Kansas modelled had to do with providing information to the libraries about implementing the program, using the devices, and evaluating its utility. There too, the central team sent advertising materials, checked in with libraries routinely, and also initiated an evaluation instrument. They followed up with individual libraries to make sure that they were gathering feedback and data from users, posting the records of webinars and even their survey results (see for more detail). The Maine program also provided some advertising materials and questionnaires, but the initial excitement of the program appears to have diminished over time, and there was no systematic follow-up.


3.3 Scale

One issue that came up immediately in both Kansas and Maine has to do with the matter of scale. Rural areas typically lack the scale economies associated with the amenities one expects in a city environment. Greater numbers of people equal more demand, which in turn draws diversity and better prices. However, the library systems in Kansas and Maine had ways of sharing and creating consortia relationships in order to provide solid technology-based services (as well as other services) that their rural constituencies used intensively.

For example, Kansas has seven Regional Library Systems (see for background) that help with technology in their territory's rural libraries, including setting up local library wifi and local computer networks. Rural libraries generally do not have the budgets to support their own tech support staff. System-supplied technical support experts routinely check in with member libraries and function as the mechanism allowing scale in terms of everything from the range of possible books or ebooks one could request to a installing a library wifi system. The latter were extensively used in rural locations because they provided Internet access that was typically faster than what one could get commercially and because they are free, allowing people to either augment or bypass their phone or device data plans by using the library network. One of our sites even constructed an outdoor patio in part to create a more comfortable space for people who just wanted to use library wifi.

In Maine, a statewide telecommunications network comprises a crucial input to enabling scaled resource availability in rural regions. The Maine School and Library Network (MSLN) emerged out of a rate case with phone company NYNEX in 1995, when Maine's PUC ordered the company to return $20 million to ratepayers. The Maine State Library intervened in that case and successfully urged that the settlement funds be devoted instead to establishing a statewide network and to equip schools and libraries with computers and Internet connectivity (Welch, 2013). The first network ran at 56 kbps, but it now provides close to 100 Mbps connections to schools and libraries. The basic goal of every library and school having a solid Internet connection that is free to the institution was innovative at the time, and a crucial aid to the complementary vision behind the Maine Learning Technology Initiative mentioned earlier. Both the network and the state program for student learning devices enabled scale economies for network reliability and quality and for bulk purchases of computer/tablet equipment and related software and support.

Maine's network and Kansas' regional systems enable rural libraries to operate more efficiently, bring costs down and extend services. For the hotspot program specifically, both library systems were able to negotiate with single providers in order to get "bulk rates" on devices and data for their libraries, continuing their traditions of leveraging network economies.


3.4 Libraries and Rural Communities

Rural libraries serve multiple functions in their communities, often while operating with fewer staff and resources than their urban counterparts. Rural libraries can be quite resourceful in seeking out external funding to overcome these local constraints (Hughes, 2017) and often must shoulder the burden of coming up with money for special programs, building projects, and so forth. That of course was the case in Kansas for the 11 libraries that chose to continue to loan hotspots after the program pilot. In speaking with library personnel, we heard that local Boards or municipalities have veto power over their budgets and consequently over some of their programs. There were some cases, for example, in which local authorities refused to support extending hotspot programs even if the library personnel recommended doing so.

Rural librarians, again like their urban counterparts, also serve diverse populations, which include older adults (who provide volunteer support to library staff as well as serve on advisory boards) and children. In Maine, summer tourists also constitute the library clientele. The libraries we visited typically offered some computer training programs, and as noted above, wifi and in-library computers were always present. Because there are relatively few public places in which people can meet, rural libraries take on the additional function of a community center. We saw them host free and reduced lunches, social work sessions, various classes, and local knitting circles, among other activities. They also support economic development by addressing small businesses and their information needs, including providing tax and legal information, local and finance information, news, as well as information about developing business plans and other start-up information (Mehra, Bishop, and Partee, 2017).

Rural libraries are important community hubs where individuals and families receive social and technical support, that also work to promote broader community development goals (White, 2014). They serve the information needs of a diverse group of people, and the hotspot programs signaled the needs of a sometimes transient population of migrant workers including a large population of people who come to rural areas from all over the world, but primarily from Mexico, Central, and South America (Peterson, 2014). The seafood, blueberry, and wreathing industries in Maine rely heavily on this migrant population; in Kansas, migrant populations assist in agriculture and also with the oil industry. (For example, Coffeyville KS is host to periodic railroad oil car cleaning operations.) The workers, many of whom come to the county with their families, are allowed to check out library materials in local libraries, including the wireless devices, as long as they are able to provide a local address for their library card.

The wifi hotspot programs in rural Kansas and Maine have built upon their libraries' success of providing free computer and Internet access inside their walls. The attraction is largely due to the high cost of broadband, which continues to plague rural communities across the country, as well as the presence of trained librarians who can assist people with different computer-related tasks, including printing. Librarians in Washington County, Maine, for example, reported a spike in demand for loaned wireless devices during the winter months, coinciding with the rise in heating costs as individuals and families are forced to prioritize warmth over broadband at home.


3.5 The Homework Gap

Connectivity is increasingly important for K-12 education in Maine and Kansas schools. In our interviews and focus groups, public and private school administrators and home-schooling parents alike expressed the importance of Internet technology in education. Schoolchildren access textbooks, research materials, and learning assessments online with a frequency that has outpaced the use of traditional classroom learning tools. In Kansas, some rural districts deployed comprehensive e-Book use in all subjects for children beginning in the first grade; these districts no longer use paper material of any kind and all work is completed online, including state assessment tests. Parents utilize e-resources to download grades and progress reports, access school calendars, pay lunch fees, and in some districts report that their child is home with a fever. This reliance on Internet-based materials makes home Internet access even more important for children.

In many rural locations in both Maine and Kansas, younger children access school-provided technology only in their classroom and share resources among a small group of classmates. In Maine, as the children progress through school, they are given their own laptop or tablet to take home with them, a component of the MLTI program. Most districts in Kansas have either tablets or laptops for students to take home, and there is an expectation that children use these devices after school in order to complete homework assigned through learning management systems that require Internet access.

However, despite the proliferation of Internet ready devices in schools, close to 20% of American children lack high-speed Internet service at home (Horrigan, 2015). Nationally, 42% of students say they received a lower grade on an assignment because they did not have access to the Internet. (HHF et al., 2015). These numbers grow for lower-income children: close to one-third (31.4%) of households with both school-age children and incomes below $50,000 lack high-speed Internet. These children find themselves stuck in 'The Homework Gap', a term that has come to describe the fact that without home broadband access, children in 5 million households cannot complete homework at home (Horrigan, 2015).

In Maine and Kansas, the shifting price of natural resources or the loss of a large employer negatively affect families' ability to afford broadband. The remoteness of the Great Plains and the dense woodlands and rocky coasts of Downeast Maine translate into few broadband options for consumers. Outside the city limits in certain counties, home broadband connections simply are not available. Many librarians expressed surprise that patrons were using MiFi devices as their main connection source at home, but an examination of connectivity options and costs explains their appeal.

Rural kids facing the Homework Gap access the Internet in creative ways to remain successful in school. Wal-Mart stores, football grandstands, library parking lots, and public parks are cited as free wifi solutions for children without access at home. Of course, these locations are restricted by weather, business hours, distance, and loitering or curfew laws. In the same way that 20th century children depended upon electrification to complete homework, 21st century students depend on Internet access as if it were light. One homeschooling parent remarked that it would be impossible to keep her child educated without access to her library's MiFi hotspots. MiFi devices afford critical home access in an era of ubiquitous computing tools and Internet-dependent learning management systems in Maine and Kansas schools.


3.6 Rural communities and the Internet

"We have [DSL] in our town, and that's about all you can get."

"We're not in [the provider's] circle, and they don't plan to expand their circle, so..."

It should not come as a surprise that the rural communities we visited were less 'connected' when compared to their more urban neighbors. Recent data from the FCC (2016) suggests that over a third of all rural residents lack access to a 25MB down / 3MB up connection (the current official definition of broadband). Only 4% of urban residents lack such access. In the rural towns with hotspot lending programs, it was typical to find only a single wireline provider — usually the local cable company — and in many instances the available speeds were well below the 25 / 3 threshold. The cellular situation was slightly better — usually there were at least 2 (and up to 5) options for providers, even in some of the sparsely populated regions we visited. However, these mobile connections depend on tower placement and are often spotty, so patches where service was unavailable were common. There is some bias here, since the Kansas library locations were selected in part because they were known to have service from a national provider (Verizon). Other rural locations across the country may struggle to find a provider that can offer lower-cost devices based on economies of scale. When we attempted to ground-truth the connectivity situation with data from the National Broadband Map, we generally found that the NBM data overstated the number of providers and speeds available.

Recent academic research has found that even when broadband infrastructure is available, rural residents are still less likely to have home broadband connections (Whitacre, Strover, and Gallardo, 2015). The rural-urban gap has consistently been around 10 percentage points since the early 2000s, with lower income and education levels in rural areas explaining about half of that gap. The rural communities we visited had home broadband rates that variedly widely — city officials in some 'bedroom communities' estimated that 80% of their households were connected, while adoption rates in high-poverty areas were estimated to be 20-40%. For the hotspot program participants we talked to, cost was the overwhelming reason why they did not have a home connection. During our focus groups, several participants noted that they had experimented with a home wired connection, but the monthly costs (typically $50 - $80 / month for the Internet portion of their bill) prevented them from continuing the service.

The individuals we met with that participated in the hotspot program clearly recognized the importance of the Internet. This was true even though they generally lacked a home connection. During their loan periods, they used the Internet for a variety of tasks that would be typical for households with a continual connection: homework, social networking, job searching, following the news, and entertainment. Many did have a monthly mobile data plan for their cell phones, and accessed the Internet regularly in that way; however they were not able to perform many of the aforementioned tasks due to the amount of data required. Several times we heard of people who were on a wait-list for a hotspot and planning out what they would do online once their turn came. For the participants, the program represented a welcome respite from their acknowledged disadvantage of having only a limited Internet connection.

One other important component to consider related to a community's broadband environment is the availability of free public wifi. While all of the libraries we visited offered this service, not many other options existed. The public schools often provided wifi within their walls, but it was generally password protected and turned off after school hours. Very few privately-owned companies (such as McDonalds or Starbucks) offered free wifi service in these communities, although we did hear about several mom-and-pop coffee shops who had taken this step or a proximate Wal-Mart. Alternatively, several of the communities we visited had progressive city governments who offered free wifi at places like the pool, city hall, or even for the entire downtown area. In nearly every community, we heard stories of people parked outside of the library at night in order to use the wifi that bleeds through the walls. Importantly, we regularly heard program participants express that being able to use the Internet in the comfort of their own home was a dramatic improvement over going to a public location in order to obtain access.

Overall, the hotspot program was a welcome addition to the local connectivity situation in the vast majority of the communities we visited. The library personnel and patrons we spoke to in Kansas had overwhelmingly positive things to say about the usefulness of the devices and impacts it had on their lives. There were, of course, exceptions: several libraries in Maine (and a few in Kansas) had very low participation rates and one Kansas program was effectively shut down by theft of the devices. On the whole, however, the program served as a useful way of improving access and adoption in a disadvantaged Internet environment.


4 Next Steps

Our field work will continue during 2017. We plan to have additional focus groups with users in several locations, and we also will develop a survey for hotspot users. A deeper look at the telecommunications options in a representative number of sites will allow us to characterize some of the actual conditions of Internet access in rural areas of our two states; this is motivated in part by our early finding that the FCC broadband maps do not adequately represent options available to individual households or small businesses or organizations. For example, the maps on our blog site can display the FCC's documented options, but our fieldwork findings deviate from those reports. This will be important in an effort to characterize the broader information environment for local residents.

The new 2017 FCC may redefine certain federal programs such as Lifeline and E-rate, affecting broadband connectivity and costs. To the extent that broadband becomes more or less affordable, patrons may well turn to their libraries for fast and free access as well as technical expertise and amenities such as access to printers. By the close of this research we expect to be able to elaborate how libraries' broadband roles intersect local economic factors and to map their links to the broader flows of information in rural localities.



1 The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 allocated funds to the Department of Commerce's National Telecommunications Infrastructure Agency and the US Department of Agriculture.
2 The Broadband Initiatives Program or BIP used grants ($2.33 billion) and loans ($1.19 billion) to fund private investment in rural networks and to extend existing systems. BIP contributed to 320 projects, although several were later rescinded. US Department of Agriculture, Rural Utilities Service Broadband Initiatives Program Quarterly Report as of 12/31/2014.


[1] Federal Communications Commission (FCC). 2016. 2016 Broadband Progress Report.
[2] Hughes, C. (2017). Rural Libraries Services for Older Adults: A Nationwide Survey. Public Library Quarterly, 36(1), 43-60.
[3] Horrigan, J. (2015). The Numbers Behind the Homework Gap. Pew Internet & American Life Project.
[4] Hispanic Heritage Foundation (HHF), myCollegeOptions, and Family Online Safety Institute (FOSI). (2015). Taking the Pulse of the High School Student Experience in America.
[5] Mehra, B., Bishop, B. W., & Partee II, R. P. (2017). Small Business Perspectives on the Role of Rural Libraries in Economic Development. Library Quarterly, 87(1), 17-35.
[6] Peterson, K. K. (2014). Including the Culturally Excluded and Socially Forgotten: Information Services for Spanish Migrant Workers in the United States. Library Quarterly, 84(3), 390-401.
[7] Real, B., Bertot, J., Jaeger, P. (March 2014). Rural public libraries and digital inclusion; Issues and challenges. Information Technology and Libraries, 6-24.
[8] Sunrise County Economic Council (2016). Sunrise County Economic Council 5-Year Strategic Plan (2016-2020).
[9] Swan, D., Grimes, J. Owens, T. (2013). The State of Small and Rural Libraries in the United States. Institute of Museum and Library Services.
[10] Welch, T. (2013) The Maine School and Library Network. Maine Policy Review, 22(1) 41-43.
[11] Whitacre, B., Strover, S., & Gallardo, R. 2015. How Much Does Broadband Infrastructure Matter? Decomposing the Rural — Urban Adoption Gap with the Help of the National Broadband Map. Government Information Quarterly 32(3): 261-269.
[12] White, D. (2014). The Rural Library Project: Building Libraries, Building Community. Public Library Quarterly, 33(2), 108-120.

About the Authors

Sharon Strover is a Professor in Communication and former Chair of the Radio-TV-Film Department at the University of Texas where she now directs the Technology and Information Policy Institute. Her current work examines policy responses to the digital divide internationally and domestically; the economic benefits of broadband, particularly in rural areas; and the role of libraries in local information environments. Dr. Strover has worked with several international, national and regional government agencies and nonprofits including the U.S. Department of Agriculture, the Center for Rural Strategies, and the European Union.


Brian Whitacre is a professor in the Agricultural Economics Department at Oklahoma State University. His research focuses on "what works" for economic development in rural communities across the nation, with a particular emphasis on the role of technology. Dr. Whitacre has published over 40 peer-reviewed journal articles on a variety of topics pertinent to rural America, including over 20 on the relationship between broadband access and economic growth. His outreach program works with rural communities and individuals to help them make productive use of broadband technology. Dr. Whitacre has won regional or national awards in each of the three legs of his appointment (teaching, research, and outreach).


Colin Rhinesmith is an Assistant Professor in the School of Library and Information Science at Simmons College. He is also a Faculty Research Fellow with the Benton Foundation and a Faculty Associate with the Berkman Klein Center for Internet & Society at Harvard University. His research is focused on the social, community, and policy aspects of information and communication technology, particularly in areas related to digital inclusion and broadband adoption. Dr. Rhinesmith's work has been mentioned by the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development, Federal Communications Commission, Public Broadcasting Service, and the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation.


Alexis Schrubbe is a doctoral student in the department of Radio, Television and Film at the University of Texas. She is a research assistant at the Technology and Information Policy Institute. Her research interests relate to broadband access in the United States with a focus on the 'homework gap,' referring to the 20% of American schoolchildren without broadband access at home. Alexis recently worked as a telecommunications policy fellow at Common Cause in Washington DC, focusing on Lifeline expansion.