Many Vermont libraries are taking a huge step forward in 2013 as community learning centers as they turn up data services on Sovernet Communication’s new state-of-the-art fiber optic network. The network, being completed this year, has been built in partnership with the Vermont Telecommunications Authority (VTA) and National Telecommunications & Information Administration (NTIA), and will be owned and operated by Sovernet.
“This took a lot of work and a lot of time,” said State Librarian Martha Reid, head of the Vermont Department of Libraries. “We had a statewide conference where we met with local librarians to get them on board. We now have 43 libraries signed on. And from the reports we’re getting, library users noted right away a tremendous improvement in speed and bandwidth.”
The three-year project is being funded by a combination of public and private capital, including a $33.4 million grant from the NTIA’s Broadband Technology Opportunities Program, a $2 million grant from the State of Vermont via the VTA, a $400,000 library-specific grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, and over $12 million of private capital committed by Sovernet.
By the end of the year, when the project wraps up, Sovernet will have helped provide fiber access to libraries around the state, from some of the Vermont’s largest in Rutland, Bennington, Montpelier and Brattleboro, to smaller facilities in Wardsboro, Rupert, Westminster West and Weston.
The availability of fiber optic quality Internet access has increased usage at the libraries. Librarian Carol Scott of the Fair Haven Free Library said they have not had time to fully focus on getting the word out, “But we still have a lot more people coming to the library to use the Internet now,” she said. “People come in and download movies and they say the computers are lightning fast. We are definitely seeing an increase in use. People are talking about it and the word is getting around.”
Gail Woll, the Librarian at the Dorset Village Library, said when she came to the area 13 years ago, her library didn’t even have one computer, and the village didn’t get cell phone service until a little over a year ago. “Now we’re telling people to come to the library, because we have this fabulous Internet access,” Woll said. “We’re going to be offering classes to help people learn how they can use this to advantage, downloading videos, e-books and the like.”
Reid agreed that getting more people to realize that so many libraries now have fiber optic Internet access is vital. “We really, really want to get the word out,” she said, “that free public access to computers and streaming quality Internet is critical. Our libraries are where a lot of people come to use computers to find jobs, to improve their education, and to research and access reliable healthcare information. We are active community partners with Vermont Health Connect during the Affordable Health Care enrollment period. This can be life-changing for people. We are thrilled to have it.”
Hat Tip: @mattRweaver