Massachusetts Libraries Fall Below FCC Standards


January 07, 2016
Celeste Bruno
Communications Specialist
1-800-952-7403 x208

All Massachusetts public libraries are currently below the national bandwidth standard set by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC) after the 2014 E-Rate Modernization Order. In FY 2014, Massachusetts residents sat down at a computer in a public library to access the internet every 4.5 seconds, indicating that Internet access in public libraries is very important to the Commonwealth's residents.

The FCC developed the new standards to ensure that everyone has equal access to high-speed internet. They called for libraries in municipalities with a population under 50,000 residents to have speeds of 100 megabytes per second (Mbps) or higher, and for municipalities with a population of over 50,000 residents to have speeds of 1 gigabyte per second (Gbps). Residents routinely access the internet at libraries to apply for jobs, work on projects, conduct research, and do countless other things that are made possible through reliable internet connections.

As part of the E-rate modernization, a survey was conducted by the American Library Association and the Information Policy & Access Center at the University of Maryland, College Park to analyze the current bandwidth speeds available at libraries nationwide. The survey found that only 2% of libraries across the United States meet the FCC's national benchmark.

An internal look at Massachusetts libraries through automated network reports to the Massachusetts Board of Library Commissioners (MBLC) finds that no libraries in Massachusetts currently meet this population-based benchmark. Some libraries may pay for additional bandwidth beyond what is available through their automated network. However, based on anecdotal reporting, it is still well below the new benchmarks.

While the Massachusetts Broadband Initiative was successful in bringing fiber connectivity and high-speed access to parts of the Commonwealth that previously relied on low-speed technologies such as dial-up, DSL, or satellite, many libraries in these areas are still unable to take full advantage of broadband's potential. The monthly costs to meet the new FCC benchmarks remain prohibitively high, and the libraries' own dated computer equipment and building infrastructure are inadequate to support high-speed internet.

The problem is compounded by state funding cuts to the automated library networks that provide most Massachusetts libraries with broadband service. Funding for Technology & Resource Sharing (line item 7000-9506) is down $600,000 from its FY 2015 amount, and down 52% from its historic high in FY 2001. This reduction impedes the improvement of network infrastructure that provides internet connections to Massachusetts libraries. Additionally, these cuts reduce the amount of money available to help libraries offset the cost of network membership, causing some to drop out of networks.

The MBLC has made restoration of this funding a priority in the FY 2017 Legislative Agenda, along with the three other line items that make it possible to share library materials across the state.

•  View chart of Massachusetts libraries' bandwidth and population served (PDF)

About MBLC

The Board of Library Commissioners ( is the agency of state government with the statutory authority and responsibility to organize, develop, coordinate and improve library services throughout the Commonwealth. The Board advises municipalities and library trustees on the operation and maintenance of public libraries, including construction and renovation. It administers state and federal grant programs for libraries and promotes cooperation among all types of libraries through regional library systems and automated resource sharing. It also works to ensure that all residents of the Commonwealth, regardless of their geographic location, social or economic status, age, level of physical or intellectual ability or cultural background, have access to essential new electronic information technologies and significant electronic databases.