I stopped to reflect for a minute on my recent visit to Venice Beach, CA. The park has signs posted over the park benches “FREE WIFI.” I watched people gather and use their smart phones to share photos of the beautiful sunset and Facetime with their families. The service is funded by Toyota and provided in several of the public parks in Los Angeles. Los Angeles is famed for their digital inclusion initiatives. The Los Angeles Public Library has done incredible work to help provide access to the Internet to an incredible amount of people. The innovative ideas to address digital inclusion are brilliant, innovative and almost logistically unfathomable considering how hard we are working just serving the small population in Kodiak.
Los Angeles’s gleaning example of successful digital inclusion initiatives is an incredible contrast to our rural villages. The Port Lions Public Library will be shutting off their internet service outside of library hours. This is a resource people count on. However, to continue to qualify for E-rate funding, the library cannot broadcast beyond their walls and, the WiFi is used exactly that way by many people. They drive their cars and ATV’s to the library to do homework, or check the score in a sports game. With a price tag of $3800.00 per month for their 1.5 Mbps connection it is imperative to the community to shut the service off at night so they won’t lose their funding and can continue to provide the only access that they are allowed. This is a librarians’ worst nightmare! Librarians spend a career providing access and restricting peoples access to knowledge is never palatable to a librarian.
Internet as a public utility is a new idea. Open access is revolutionary and it is truly a great equalizer in the 21st century. The only difference in the access opportunities in LA compared to rural Alaska is over a decade of hard work developing initiatives for their community. Fortunately, all the hard work and research developed in their process is now available online for us all to learn from. As we develop programs and resources for our community and the Internet is an invaluable tool to learn from the experience of others.