Aspen Institute Offers Strategies for Using High-Speed Broadband in California to Drive Equity, Learning Innovation and Civic Participation

June 11, 2019

High-bandwidth services at public libraries can be leveraged to advance California priorities for universal pre-school and youth learning, prepare for the 2020 Census and implement vote-by-mail in 2020 elections

Amy Garmer

June 11, 2019 – The Aspen Institute today released Beyond Connectivity: How California Libraries Can Leverage Bandwidth to Advance Community Goals, a new report that calls on California policymakers and community leaders to work with public libraries and the state’s CENIC network to develop state-of-the-art uses of library bandwidth to advance equity, learning and opportunity in their communities. The report is available at

The report unveils a set of opportunities and recommendations for strengthening local innovation and resetting community expectations, using public libraries and their gigabit-plus broadband capacity as a fulcrum. These include:

  • Preparing for the 2020 Census and Elections by building out the concept of libraries as key partners in Census outreach and as voting centers as California transitions to vote-by-mail elections;
  • Using library broadband to train and certify professionals to provide early learning services toward the goal of universal pre-kindergarten for all California children—the CENIC network is a vehicle for reaching all 1,133 public libraries in California;
  • Adopting a greater role for public libraries to work with other entities, such as the California Emerging Technology Fund, to close the digital divide and achieve the goal of having 98% of California homes connected to broadband by 2023.
  • Expanding programs for writing, creativity and digital production to create new pathways for youth learning and engagement.

The recommendations come from a group of 26 technology and library experts and entrepreneurs brought together by the Aspen Institute Dialogue on Public Libraries to explore how California communities can get more out of their libraries’ high-bandwidth connectivity through CENIC, a nonprofit established 20 years ago to provide reliable, cost-effective broadband to California’s research and education institutions. These tech innovators and social entrepreneurs from California and the nation shared promising new practices using virtual reality and augmented reality technology, gaming and streaming technologies already in use in some California libraries and explored the partnerships and additional resources that are needed to build out these innovations statewide.

“High-speed networks like CENIC can extend libraries’ work to activate the human imagination in new ways and provide new platforms for innovation and entrepreneurial activity,” said Amy Garmer, director of the Aspen Institute Dialogue on Public Libraries. “As the nation confronts widening gaps in wealth, education and participation, public libraries are free and inclusive spaces that provide access, promote learning and build trusted relationships. California can lead the way by leveraging abundant bandwidth provided through CENIC to expand opportunities for its people and help to close these troubling gaps.”

CENIC President and CEO Louis Fox said, “The ability to access digital information is essential to every Californian and our remarkable libraries are places where access, the expertise of librarians, and a wealth of opportunities are available to all. Bandwidth should never constrain access and innovation in our libraries.”

The report and its recommendations stem from the Aspen Institute conference, “Beyond Connectivity: Gigabit Network Use in California Public Libraries,” that took place at the Stanley Mosk Library and Courts Building in Sacramento, California on December 4-5, 2018. The conference was funded by a grant from the Patrick J. McGovern Foundation and concluded a series of California Library Dialogues convened by the Aspen Institute Dialogue on Public Libraries in 2018.

About the Aspen Institute
The Aspen Institute is an educational and policy studies organization based in Washington, DC. Its mission is to foster leadership based on enduring values and to provide a nonpartisan venue for dealing with critical issues. The Institute is based in Washington, DC; Aspen, Colorado; and on the Wye River on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. It also has offices in New York City and an international network of partners. For more information, visit

About the Dialogue on Public Libraries
The Aspen Institute Dialogue on Public Libraries is a multi-stakeholder forum to explore and champion new thinking on US public libraries, with the goal of fostering the transformation of public libraries for a more diverse, mobile and connected society. The Dialogue is managed by the Aspen Institute Communications and Society Program, which focuses on projects and initiatives that address the societal impact of communications and information technologies and communications policy issues. Learn more about the Aspen Institute Dialogue on Public Libraries at

CENIC connects California to the world — advancing education and research statewide by providing the world-class network essential for innovation, collaboration, and economic growth. This nonprofit organization operates the California Research and Education Network (CalREN), a high-capacity network designed to meet the unique requirements of over 20 million users, including the vast majority of K-20 students together with educators, researchers, and others at vital public-serving institutions. CENIC’s Charter Associates are part of the world’s largest education system; they include the California K-12 system, California Community Colleges, the California State University system, California’s Public Libraries, the University of California system, Stanford, Caltech, USC, and the Naval Postgraduate School. CENIC also provides connectivity to leading-edge institutions and industry research organizations around the world, serving the public as a catalyst for a vibrant California. For more information, visit


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