Oklahoma Libraries Receive Grants for Internet Upgrades

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Forty-four Oklahoma libraries will share $3.3 million in federal and private grants to upgrade their broadband Internet access, officials with the Oklahoma Department of Libraries announced last week.

Susan McVey, ODL executive director, said the state received a major grant from the National Telecommunications and Information Administration to upgrade broadband and computing capabilities at 44 public library sites across the state.

A $2.3 million grant, part of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act, will be coupled with a $1 million matching grant from the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, for a total of $3.3 million.

"We are thrilled that our grant application was successful," McVey said. "High-speed access and new equipment will open up a host of educational and economic opportunities for these communities."

State officials said the grant award was 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," Gov. Brad 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."

McVey said the state is also awaiting word on another grant application with the NTIA. That application, she said, would expand OneNet's fiber backbone by hundreds of miles (OneNet is Oklahoma's telecommunications and information network for education and government). She said over the next three years, public libraries will see their broadband upload speeds increase from ranges of 4.6 Mbps to more than 100 Mbps.

"Broadband speeds will vary because of existing infrastructure in the communities and the ability of local libraries to sustain the investment," she said.

McVey said the grant would provide 326 videoconferencing-capable laptops and desktop computers, as well as 36 room-based videoconferencing systems. The ODL will use funds to place equipment at OneNet that will allow up to 20 concurrent high-definition videoconference 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 state's public libraries are ready to embrace the 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. …