WASHINGTON, October 1, 2009 - Libraries could serve as platforms for successful use of stimulus funds if existing broadband infrastructure is upgraded to next-generation standards, the Fiber to the Library initiative said Wednesday.
The project said that it had received endorsements from Google, the Fiber to the Home project and the National Association of Telecommunications Officers and Advisors.
Using BTOP grant funds to bring fiber to each of America's public libraries could give the country the best bang for the stimulus buck by allowing them to act as a platform for technological experimentation, said FTTL founder Don Means in an interview.
"We see libraries as early adopters of technologies," he said. "A lot of people had their first experience with first-generation broadband at a library," he added. "We think libraries are demand drivers for emerging technologies."
Libraries already serve an important role in increasing broadband availability by providing open wireless access points, Means said. He described a recent experience during which he used a Wi-Fi access point in a library parking lot to work when he found his hotel did not provide internet access.
But many libraries operate with inadequate connectivity to accommodate today's bandwidth-heavy internet applications, Means said.
Replacing current connections with next-generation fiber will allow libraries to serve as test-beds for a wide variety of community technology projects, he suggested."[Libraries] are very useful in answering a whole lot of technology and public policy questions," he said.
"Let's treat these...as demonstration sites," he suggested, or "community laboratories for all kinds of technologies." Improving the public infrastructure already extant at libraries "provides the biggest bang for the stimulus buck" by connecting every community in the country to next-generation broadband he said.
FTTL is the type of broadband project Google can strongly support, said Richard Whitt, the company's Washington-based telecommunications and media counsel.
"Public libraries provide a place for all citizens to gather and utilize advanced technologies," he said. Upgrading libraries capability will "help transform those institutions into future technology hubs, local community nodes, and the essential information centers for the 21st Century," he said.
Even Fiber to the Home advocates support expanding capacity to libraries as a stimulus priority. "Providing next-generation broadband access via optical fiber to America’s libraries assures our library system will be able to meet the information needs of the 21st century,” said FTTH Council President Joe Savage.
NATOA President Mary Beth Henry was similarly enthusiastic about her organization's endorsement of FTTL "Countless local governments have worked with public libraries for more than a decade to offer high-capacity Internet access over fiber optics, much as we do to other key anchor institutions," she said. “Libraries serve the essential function in any community of offering connectivity to the unconnected, and as the public space where all can experience the value of next generation online applications."
But the greatest value of Fiber to the Library as a stimulus project could be found in its quantifiable nature, Means told us. While many are questioning the efficacy of stimulus projects, FTTL would be a "measurable, doable project within the existing BTOP funds," he said. "When the last red light turns to green...we'll know all 16,500 libraries are connected," he said."
By comparison, Means invoked NASA's successful repair of the Hubble Space Telescope as another quantifiable accomplishment America could be proud of. "The country needs a win," he said.
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