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Stimulus money means faster Internet for schools, libraries

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FRANK J. SCHULTZ
June 24, 2010

Many areas across southern Wisconsin will get upgrades in their Internet access under a plan adopted by state lawmakers Wednesday.


The Legislature’s Joint Finance Committee agreed Wednesday to spend $22.9 million in federal stimulus funds for mostly rural communities statewide.


The money would pay for installation of fiber-optic cable, providing vastly improved Internet speed for areas that now rely on Internet carried on copper wires.


The money targets public schools and public libraries, but homes and businesses also would be able to tap into the fiber optic cable network if they are where the fiber optics are installed.


“It’s going to make a dramatic difference to our libraries,” said Ruth Ann Montgomery, director of the Arrowhead Library System in Rock County.


All the Arrowhead libraries except Janesville’s Hedberg Library get Internet off a copper wire, the equivalent of what is called a T1 line, Montgomery said. Those lines provide a bandwidth of about 1.5 megabytes per second.


The upgrade will provide 20 megabytes per second.


Schools benefiting from the upgrade will be able to get 100 megabytes per second.


The libraries and schools will have to pay a monthly rate, but for the libraries, at least, it will be no more than what they’re paying for their current service, Montgomery said.


The rates are $100 a month for the libraries $250 a month for schools.


“It should be noted that the federal broadband grant would only upgrade the network and would not require educational agencies to increase the amount of network speed requested or paid for,” according to a Legislative Fiscal Bureau analysis of the plan.


The improvements are coming relatively soon. Seventy schools should have the fiber-optic connection by the end of this year and the rest by the end of 2011, according to a Department of Administration letter to the Joint Finance Committee.


Statewide, the grants will connect 385 libraries, 74 school districts and eight community colleges to the existing high-speed BadgerNet Converged Network by adding 203 miles of fiber-optic cable and related facilities, according to a news release from Sen. Judy Robson, D-Beloit.


Robson compared the funding to the federal projects that first brought electricity to many rural areas starting in the 1930s.


“It’s a wonderful program that will allow the libraries much better access to the Internet and resources people need to search for jobs,” Montgomery said.


Montgomery said there’s been a big increase in Internet use at local libraries as the number of unemployed has grown.


While no additional cable would be laid in Janesville, the Hedberg Public Library still will benefit, Montgomery said.


The Hedberg library now receives Internet at a speed of 3 megabytes per second, but at no extra cost it will be able to upgrade to 100 megabytes, Montgomery said.


The federal funding comes with a requirement for state matching funds. About $5.7 million will be reallocated from a state program that helps schools pay for computer technology, known as the TEACH grants, according to the DOA letter.


SCHOOLS AND LIBRARIES AFFECTED

These area schools and public libraries are scheduled to benefit from these sums, which will be spent to bring them faster Internet service.


-- Albany School, $35,700.


-- Aram Public Library, Delavan, $165,327.


-- Badger High School, Lake Geneva, $51,745.


-- Barrett Memorial Library, Williams Bay, $143,091.


-- Beloit Public Library, $64,733.


-- Brigham Memorial Library, Sharon, $45,447.


-- Brodhead Memorial Public Library, $126,005.


-- Clinton Public Library, $105,327.


-- Darien Public Library, $148,528.


-- Eager Free Public Library, Evansville, $49,763.


-- East Troy Lions Public Library, $29,106.


-- Edgerton High School, $132,935.


-- Edgerton Public Library, $109,350.


-- Fontana Elementary School, $128,844.


-- Fontana Public Library, $233,244.


-- Genoa City Public Library, $194,075.


-- Juda School, $42,353.


-- Lake Geneva Public Library, $55,832.


-- Matheson Memorial Library, Elkhorn, $49,183.


-- Irving L. Young Public Library, Whitewater, $169,551.


-- Milton Public Library, $38,243.


-- Orfordville Public Library, $106,204.


-- Parkview High School, Orfordville, $119,606.


-- Powers Memorial Library, Palmyra, $44,913.


-- Prairie View Elementary School, East Troy, $60,221.


-- Sharon Community School, $45,447.


-- Walworth Memorial Library, $138,471.



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