Libraries in Tennessee, Kansas, and Missouri are close to entering a dizzying space where they will have so much digital horsepower that they will be able to download and upload files on the Internet at speeds up to one gigabit per second.
That is 200 times faster than the current national average and 10 times faster than the FCC’s National Broadband Plan, according to the city-owned Electric Power Board (EPB) in Chattanooga, TN, which has connected its 600 square mile service area (170,000 business and homes) to its fiber optic network —- including soon the Chattanooga Public Library.
“We are three weeks away. It’s pretty close,” said Corinne Hill, who became the library’s director in February.
In 2010, Chattanooga became the first city to offer one gigabit broadband service in the United States for residential and business customers, but the library has not been a part of that because it was part of a county-city library system.
“We’re just moving over to the city network,” Hill said.
The city’s network is powered by Alcatel-Lucent’s gigabit passive optical network (GPON) technology.
“It’s pretty phenomenal that we are doing this in a building that went up in 1976,” Hill said. “You realize you don’t have to rewire and that’s a big chunk of change.”
In addition to the speed, the new network opens up tremendous partnering potential for the library and can help make it the “creative hub for the community.”
“We are looking to create incubator space. We provide access to the speed and technology that’s not practical for you to have at home, but what you need to create content, whatever that content might be,” Hill said.
Because of the gigabit broadband service, Chattanooga is becoming “a really young and techy geek town,” Hill said, which opens up video conferencing and other business opportunities.
“We want to try to address the needs of entrepreneurs,” Hill said. “The folks you talk to don’t have offices; they just meet wherever. And to be able to provide those folks a place where they can meet and work and be around people doing like things has great potential,” she said.
Hill did not have specifics on cost but she said the new system will be cheaper than what the library now pays.
At the same time, Google has been laying its own gigabit fiber optic cable in Kansas City, on both sides of the state line, as part of a test of high-speed broadband networks that was first announced in 2010. Nearly 1,100 communities across the country expressed interest in this project, before Google selected Kansas City and began working with the Kansas City Board of Public Utilities (KCBPU) and Kansas City Power & Light (KCP&L). According to the Google Fiber Blog, 100 miles of fiber had been laid as of April 4.
Both the Kansas City Kansas Public Library and the Kansas City Public Library in Missouri will eventually be connected, although the timeline remains a bit uncertain.
“We really don’t know when although they promised us it would be the first half of 2012,” said Carol Levers, the director of libraries in Kansas City, Kansas. “Google is very tight lipped.”
Levers said she was ecstatic when she first learned about the plan in December, and she saw it as a “community wide experiment” that would help close the growing digital divide. But there was a sobering side as well.
“A lot of times people say we are going to give it to you for free, and I have learned that nothing is free,” Levers said. “It’s free to the walls but to bring it into the building is going to cost us something, but we have no idea exactly what is needed.”
Google has not yet decided what it will charge for the service.
“We plan to offer service at a competitive price to what people are paying for Internet access today, but we haven’t yet finalized any pricing,” according to a Google FAQ.
Google has said it will provide the service to neighborhoods on a “demand” basis, and the Kansas City Public Library in Missouri created a public outreach program, Give Us a Gig, for members of the community to “get organized and go online to voice their demand for Google Fiber,” according to a library blog posting by Jordan Fields, the digital projects manager.
In a separate piece, Fields listed some of the potential benefits the library envisions from the high speed connection:
- Entrepreneurs could use library spaces to demonstrate their ideas and get feedback from community members as well as potential investors on new technologies that utilize the gigabit connection.
- Libraries could build technology collaboration stations that would provide a physical space for local students to create school projects using media-editing software and then publish their work to the web to share with their classmates as well as other students around the world.
- Libraries are already the front lines for closing the digital divide and they will continue to fulfill this role for the community. The Library will be the only place where ANYONE can access a gig for free, and librarians will be instrumental in educating the community about what can be accomplished with a gigabit connection.
- Libraries will continue to build online spaces for the collection of community-produced content, whether research and datasets, creative works, or family records and histories. Libraries could become, in effect, the community’s datacenter.
- In addition to allowing for the development and storage of community-created content, libraries could design apps and build online tools that use a gigabit connection to facilitate the sharing and use of that content by anyone. Through access to these tools, libraries will become the platform on which our community tells its story to the world.