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Free Government Information (FGI) is a place for initiating dialogue and building consensus among the various players (libraries, government agencies, non-profit organizations, researchers, journalists, etc.) who have a stake in the preservation of and perpetual free access to government information. FGI promotes free government information through collaboration, education, advocacy and research.

FCC data exaggerates broadband access on tribal lands

A new report from the Government Accountability Office (GAO) has found that Broadband access in tribal areas is likely even worse than previously thought because Federal Communications Commission data overstates deployment. Now it seems like we need to be worried about government data going away AND the veracity of government data.

“BROADBAND INTERNET: FCC’s Data Overstate Access on Tribal Lands”. GAO-18-630. September 2018.

The GAO report describes problems with the FCC’s Form 477 data collection, in which Internet providers submit deployment data to the commission twice a year.

The FCC provides subsidies to carriers to deploy broadband in areas where access is limited, such as through the Connect America Fund. Inaccurate data “could affect FCC’s funding decisions and the ability of tribal lands to access broadband in the future,” the GAO wrote.

“[The] FCC considers broadband to be ‘available’ for an entire census block if the provider could serve at least one location in the census block. This leads to overstatements of service for specific locations like tribal lands,” the GAO wrote.

Moreover, the “FCC does not collect information on several factors—such as affordability, quality, and denials of service—that FCC and tribal stakeholders stated can affect the extent to which Americans living on tribal lands can access broadband services,” the GAO wrote.

The FCC also “does not have a formal process to obtain tribal input on the accuracy of provider-submitted broadband data,” the report said. About half of tribal stakeholders interviewed by the GAO said it’s difficult to get information about broadband deployment directly from providers.

via FCC data exaggerates broadband access on tribal lands | Ars Technica.

Information Access in Prisons

As the vast majority of government information goes digital, it becomes more accessible to many segments of the population that may otherwise not be willing or able to invest the time and energy to travel to a repository or track the documents down through other means. K-12 students working on projects for civics class or stay at home moms living in rural areas are now able to do research from exactly where they are on their computers. As physical documents and physical space become less restrictive we are seeing government information as it has always been intended, accessible, democratic and for the people. In the flurry of excitement surrounding this new level of transparency and access it is easy to forget what a large segment of the population has no access to the Internet whatsoever.

In a recent National Telecommunications and Information Survey conducted by the Census Bureau, Digital Nation: 21st Century America’s Progress Toward Universal Broadband Internet Access 40% of Americans surveyed said they have no household high speed internet access, and 30% said they have none at all. While we can most likely assume they have some level of access via school, work or the public library. However, the vast majority of prison inmates have no access whatsoever. In a rapidly advancing and ever more digital world, inmates spending any length of time away from computers will certainly find themselves left in the dust upon re-entry into society. Some facilities recognize the value of increased access, as both an educational and community engagement, Matt Kelley wrote about the expansion of Internet in Kansas State prisons In most prisons around the country however, prison librarians serve as the main point of access to information for all inmates. For those seeking to better understand sentencing, that often means requests for copies of legislation and other government information. One of the most highly requested bills at a DC area prison of late has been the Fair Sentencing Act (S. 1789) which reduces the disparity in sentencing between crack and powdered cocaine. The flurry of press coverage following its signing this past summer led to high requests of the legislation itself by prisoners looking to understand its impact.

While the argument can be made that those who have broken the law deserve punishment, not the privilege of surfing the web, I firmly believe that if prisoners are expected to productively rejoin society and improve themselves direct access is essential. Hopefully, eventually more states will go the way of Kansas, but in the meantime, prison librarians must continue the difficult and commendable work of disseminating information.

Sara Medlicott

First-ever National Study: Millions of People Rely on Library Computers for Employment, Health, and Education

First-ever National Study: Millions of People Rely on Library Computers for Employment, Health, and Education, by Samantha Becker, Information School, University of Washington (March 22nd, 2010).

PORTLAND, Ore.—Nearly one-third of Americans age 14 or older – roughly 77 million people – used a public library computer or wireless network to access the Internet in the past year, according to a national report released today. In 2009, as the nation struggled through a recession, people relied on library technology to find work, apply for college, secure government benefits, learn about critical medical treatments, and connect with their communities.

The report, Opportunity for All: How the American Public Benefits from Internet Access at U.S. Libraries, is based on the first, large-scale study of who uses public computers and Internet access in public libraries, the ways library patrons use this free technology service, why they use it, and how it affects their lives. It was conducted by the University of Washington Information School and funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation and the Institute of Museum and Library Services.

Full Report:

Becker, Samantha, Michael D. Crandall, Karen E. Fisher, Bo Kinney, Carol Landry, and Anita Rocha. (2010). Opportunity for All: How the American Public Benefits from Internet Access at U.S. Libraries (PDF, 212 pages). (IMLS-2010-RES-01). Institute of Museum and Library Services. Washington, D.C.