The Oklahoma Department of Libraries (ODL) has received a major grant from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) to upgrade broadband and computing capabilities at 44 public library sites around the state, including Muskogee. The announcement was made July 1.
NTIA awarded the state $2.3 million through the Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP). The BTOP program is part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, the economic stimulus package passed by Congress in 2009. With a matching grant of $1 million from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Oklahoma will have $3.3 million to implement the improvements.
“We are thrilled that our grant application was successful,” said Susan McVey, ODL director. “High speed access and new equipment will open up a host of educational and economic opportunities for these communities.”
Gov. Brad Henry said the grant award is just one element in the state’s strategy to improve broadband access across the state.
“Many Oklahomans face challenges in finding affordable broadband services that are critical to accessing information for educational, business and health purposes,” Henry said. “ODL’s grant was a key component of our efforts to increase opportunities for our fellow Oklahomans, and we are happy to see this successful outcome.”
The state is also awaiting word on another grant application before the NTIA that would expand OneNet’s fiber backbone by hundreds of miles.
During the next three years, the public libraries will see their broadband upload speeds increase to a minimum of 4.6 mbps to in excess of 100 mpbs.
Broadband speeds will vary because of existing infrastructure in the communities and the ability of local libraries to sustain the investment.
In addition, the grant will provide 326 video conferencing capable laptops and desktop computers, as well as 36 room-based video conferencing systems.
ODL will use grant funds to place equipment at OneNet that will allow up to 20 concurrent high-definition video conference sessions at the libraries, or up to 40 standard definition sessions. The equipment will also allow sessions to be captured for later viewing.
Project director Vicki Mohr said the libraries and their communities are ready to embrace this technology.
“The libraries see it as a major advantage in terms of educational and economic development activities,” Mohr said. “With this equipment, small businesses could communicate globally with their partners, conduct online interviews with potential employees, and attend training sessions without having to leave town. Local citizens could sign-up for online college courses. It can be a boon for distance education in these communities.”
Mohr said more than 200 letters of support were gathered from local, state and national organizations to support the application.
“The letters ranged from agencies and businesses wanting to use the system for job training and professional development, to organizations who want to connect for educational purposes, to support groups who see an opportunity for teletherapy sessions.”
“I think the desire, enthusiasm and excitement expressed in these letters helped us obtain the grant,” Mohr said.
McVey said the successful grant would also not have been possible without the hard work of ODL staff members Mohr, Judy Tirey and Cathy Van Hoy.
“In addition, we were fortunate to be selected as one of 14 states to receive consultation and technical assistance from the Gates Foundation during the application process,” McVey said. “Our partnership with the foundation made all the difference.”
“Federal investments in connecting libraries to high-quality Internet service and technology infrastructure are critical to realizing the universal broadband access our country needs,” said Jill Nishi, deputy director of the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation’s U.S. Libraries program.
“When libraries provide broadband to communities, they can deliver valuable online opportunities that help people find jobs, further their education, and access important government information. We hope that this BTOP award will help other public and private funders to understand the importance of investing in public technology access at Oklahoma’s libraries.”
All 44 public libraries, including Ponca City Library, will receive upgraded video conferencing and computing capabilities. Mohr said Ponca City already has broadband high speed, but that the 43 other public libraries will have their connection speeds upgraded.
Twelve public library sites will receive Fiber-based Ethernet connections with broadband speeds in excess of 100 mbps. These libraries are in Ardmore, Claremore, Clinton, Durant, Guthrie, Lawton, Muskogee, Pryor, Sapulpa, Shawnee and Stillwater.
Twenty-five public libraries will receive network connections with broadband speeds from 10 to 45 mpbs. These libraries are in Altus, Anadarko, Atoka, Bartlesville, Cleveland, Duncan, El Reno, Enid, Eufaula, Fairview, Grove, Guymon, Hollis, Marietta, Miami, Okmulgee, Pawhuska, Purcell, Sallisaw, Sulphur, Tahlequah, Tishomingo, Wagoner, Westville and Woodward.
Six public libraries will receive multiple connections with broadband speeds up to 4.6 mbps. These libraries are in Cherokee, Grandfield, Prague, Walters, Watonga and Waurika.