Broadband – Bag of Tricks

The internet is quite the thing. Since I have been alive, the internet has not only come into being but really changed how people interact with the world. Even 15 years ago, I don’t know that I understood the impact of having the world wide web on a device in my pocket.

It reminds me of when I was building my house. I live pretty far from town and it was a few years before I got running water, and when I finally did, it was from a well, not a municipal utility. In the years since, running water has become indispensable in my life and, recently, when my pump broke, doing without water for a few days was really hard. I had a difficult time remembering how I did without it for the years before. Now I feel the same way about the internet.

As 2019 approaches, the internet has really become ubiquitous in people’s lives. “Google” has become a verb. “Google it” is a phrase we all understand to mean “look it up on the internet” and not to necessarily mean using the product called Google. Folks even become upset when the internet isn’t available on planes or in coffee shops. People consider the internet to be almost a public utility, but it isn’t. Over the past decade, different projects have been rolling out from the government to increase the infrastructure. This is especially important in rural areas where access to high-speed internet is not available.

In the USA, 81.9% of households have Internet at home. In Colorado, we are up to 87%. Pretty good! But that still leaves 13% of Colorado residents without consistent access to the internet. And even some of that 87%  with internet access do not have high-speed internet. The majority of this 13% without internet access in their households live in rural areas and either can’t afford internet or simply don’t have the ability to purchase internet access at any price due to the lack of availability in their area.

With this in mind, the federal government has proposed a few initiatives that give incentives to internet providers to build up their infrastructure in order to expand access. The Access to Capital Creates Economic Strength and Supports (ACCESS) Rural America Act would provide regulatory relief to rural telecommunications service providers by allowing them to submit streamlined financial reports to the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC). These small companies—many of which are the sole service providers in their region—could be put out of business by looming regulatory costs. Specifically, this bipartisan legislation would increase the number of investors that triggers SEC public reporting requirements for rural telecommunications companies so that these smaller companies with fewer investors would not be required to report, and this will save these small companies from costly SEC reporting requirements that were never intended for them.

The U.S. Department of Agriculture (USDA) Rural Utilities Service (RUS), also has a loan program to help internet providers extend and beef up service. The RUS broadband loan program provides low-interest loans for the construction of broadband networks in rural areas. Loans target areas lacking broadband service at speeds of at least 25 Mbps downstream and 3 Mbps upstream. Funding recipients will be required to build out service providing speeds of at least 25/3 Mbps, and priority will be given to applications proposing to serve areas with the highest percentage of locations lacking 25/3 Mbps service.

Finally, the most essential program comes from anchor institutions. Anchor institutions are schools, hospitals, and libraries. Yup, libraries.

Colorado libraries provide free internet to people in our communities and connect those communities to the broader world through the internet. Internet access makes our libraries a local watering hole, so to speak, for information and communication. Does your library provide enough internet? Yes?  And what is “enough internet”?

To calculate the minimum bandwidth you need to provide quality Internet‐based services, consider what you want available to each internet user in your library.

If you want … You’ll need about… download speeds

General web surfing, email, social media 1 Mbps
Online gaming 1-3 Mbps
Video conferencing* 1-4 Mbps
Standard-definition video streaming 3-4 Mbps
High-definition video streaming 5-8 Mbps
Frequent large file downloading 50 Mbps and up
*You’ll want at least a 1 Mbps upload speed for quality video conferencing.

If it is the goal to provide to each user general web surfing and some low-definition Youtube videos, let’s aim for 1.5 Mbps for each user. So, if you have 6 computers, we first need to multiply 1.5 by 6 (1.5 * 6 = 9 Mbps) You might have wireless too, and folks can use that with their own laptops or smartphones. Let’s figure a light load, say ⅓ of folks are using their own device. So, instead of 6 devices, we have 6 * 1.33 or 8. Now our math looks like 1.5 * 8 = 12 Mbps. Does your staff use the same internet connection or do you have a separate connection for staff computers? You’ll need to add in those connections and some circulation/cataloging systems (your ILS) take more bandwidth. Anything else using your internet like your library VoIP phones? Remember to figure it all in.  In our example, this library with 6 public access computers should be purchasing a minimum of 12 Mbps download.

How much is your library providing to each internet user? You can also do the math backward. If you are purchasing 25 Mbps total and run your staff internet with a separately purchased connection and have 10 public access computers and wifi (10*1.33=13.3), plus 1 computer that uses the internet for games for children, and 1 for genealogy and special research, you are providing (13 + 1 + 1 = 15, 25/15 = 1.6) 1.6 Mbps to each user. Library EDGE (http://www.libraryedge.org/) provides examples of the math with their benchmarking. You can also check out Toward Gigabit Libraries (https://www.coloradovirtuallibrary.org/technology/bag-of-tricks-toward-gigabit-libraries/) for more information on improving and learning about your current broadband infrastructure.

It can also be a good idea to do a speed test. Several sites test the speed of your internet (this can also be a good tool to ensure that you are getting what you pay for). I use Speedtest.net (http://www.speedtest.net). Check your speed early before you open and then again at your busiest times. This can help you determine what you are actually providing your patrons.

Consider adding a speed testing website to your Bag of Tricks. If you’re new to your library or just to the Colorado Virtual Library website, a Bag of Tricks is a virtual toolkit that you create to help familiarize yourself with new technology and websites that you or your patrons might find handy. Here’s an example of a Bag of Tricks that you can use as a jumping-off point for creating your own:  https://padlet.com/kieran/CSLSHAREANDLEARN.

As we talked about in other parts of this Bag of Tricks series, having resources at your fingertips and a basic familiarity with up-and-coming technology can come in very handy for better serving patrons and can also give you a bit more confidence.

Being an anchor for your community by providing high-speed internet access is an important step in leveling the playing field for job seekers, students, and life-long learners while also opening new doors to explorers, information seekers, travelers, and social media postulants in your community.

Kieran Hixon

Kieran Hixon

Technology & Digital Initiatives Consultant at Colorado State Library
Contact Kieran at hixon_k@cde.state.co.us.
Kieran Hixon

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