Magazine article American Libraries

Chapter Report: Take the Tele- out of Communications

Magazine article American Libraries

Chapter Report: Take the Tele- out of Communications

Article excerpt

It's easy to get lost in the jargon of the telecommunications-rates issue. One reaction is to seek immersion, mastering the intricacies of carrier competition and regulatory environments, and abandoning normal conversation in favor of TSL (Technology as a Second Language). Others flee the scene entirely, or bury their heads in virtual sand. But more than a few library advocates are managing to sort out the signal from the static.

High-quality digital-access lines are no different from printing presses that managed to replace idiosyncratic scrawls or smudgy copies with clear, legible information. No one thought they had to understand lithography or explain how rotogravure presses operated in order to make a case for library book budgets. Granted, the telecommunications debates are being waged on slightly different grounds. Instead of asking for money to buy books that contain information, the request is for discounted rates on telephone lines that connect to information. But in both cases, information is the goal.

I didn't figure this out for myself. It came from listening to stories of rate hearings and discount rules as librarians relayed to me the cases they had made and mostly won. Just like the commissioners and legislators who heard the stories the first time, I was persuaded - not by the technology I barely understand, but by the stories of ordinary people seeking ordinary information by what will one day seem ordinary means.

The Oklahoma roundup

Oklahoma is about to unveil a new universal-service package providing up to five toll-free incoming lines to all schools, libraries, hospitals, and county seats, along with a high-quality (56kbs or equivalent) access line. The only catch is that the legislature wrote the bill and the public utilities commission - the Oklahoma Corporation Commission (OCC) - drafted the rules, which aren't in perfect agreement. They are currently negotiating mutually acceptable versions, the kind of negotiation that can strike fear in a librarian's heart. But the Oklahoma library community seems confident of the results. They've had their say - at almost every OCC conference along the way and through the Oklahoma Library Association's ongoing legislative advocacy.

"It was hearing from nonindustry people that made the difference to the OCC," says Susan McVey, deputy director of the Oklahoma Department of Libraries. McVey coordinated activities with OLA's Legislative Committee and they responded by rallying the troops. "OLA's Past-president Marty Thompson and Executive Director Kay Boies were always there. When we needed a show of numbers, they produced. Even when they weren't being asked to testify, their presence was important. Without the visible public support they were able to muster, this could have turned out differently. We've got buy-in from both industry and the state."

Texas two-step

Texas is one of a small number of states that created its own state discounts prior to the federal discount schedule established by the Federal Communications Commission (FCC). Basically, the state discount was a flat 25%. The federal schedule ranges from 20% to 90%, but requires a more complicated application, planning, and approval process.

When the Texas Public Utilities Commission (PUC) met this year to hammer out state rules, the Texas Library Association (TLA) went into action. The PUC's initial approach was to suggest that libraries would have to choose either the state or federal discount and not be eligible to combine parts of the two programs. But after a couple dozen letters and TLA testimony, the PUC has essentially decided not to rule on the matter, leaving it up to individual libraries to elect one discount or another, or to pursue both. …

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