Take advantage of library’s Internet

Published 7:00 am Saturday, December 26, 2015

Next time you check your email or turn to the Internet to look for that special recipe or to read the headlines, think back to when the only connection available was dial-up. Remember the frustration? You probably gave up after a couple of tries.
Internet use at your public library is more important than ever before. The Pearl River County Library System provides Internet access for unemployed and underemployed persons applying for jobs. Students of all ages find that the only way they can attend college is to take online courses and exams.
Think of all of the various applications and forms that can be only completed online, like tax forms, other government resources, and many job applications.
In 2014, according to estimates by the U.S. Census Bureau, 41 percent of Mississippians reported they had no high-speed Internet at home.
The Pearl River County Library System provides Internet access for the entire community, including those who fit into that 41 percent.
Most of Mississippi’s public libraries don’t have sufficient broadband speed to meet Internet usage demands.
In the 2016 legislative session, the Mississippi Library Commission (MLC) will be requesting the budgetary funding to level the playing field for all Mississippi communities by ensuring that all public library buildings will be connected to fast-access fiber broadband and managed WiFi.
The federal Universal Service Fund, or E-Rate, provides discounts to schools and libraries for Internet access. The E-Rate program would allow a discounted rate for MLC to provide a reasonably priced, statewide fiber optic and managed WiFi network to connect each of the state’s 235 public library buildings.
The Pearl River County Library System recently upgraded to fast-access fiber broadband, which has been a vast improvement from the old T1 lines, but has more than doubled the Internet bill for the library system, which is still recovering from severe budget cuts of a few years ago. When fixed costs keep rising, the library system may very well be forced to depend on donations of books for a few more years. The library system truly appreciates the generosity of the public, but relying on donations is not good collection development.
What does this proposal mean for your library system? Very simply, legislative support of the MLC FY17 budget request will allow the library system to restore the library’s book budget. If MLC’s budget request is fully funded, the cost of fast-access fiber broadband will no longer be the responsibility of the library system.
This transformative project would be completed within two years and ensure an 85 percent discount per the statewide average as determined by E-Rate eligibility. Imagine the return on investment if a statewide fiber network were implemented throughout Mississippi at 15 percent of the cost. Increased innovation in rural communities serves to build economic growth, assist unemployed citizens in successful job searches, and gives our students the tools needed to achieve their fullest potential through grant applications, online classes, and exams. In the vast rural areas of the state, such as Pearl River County, there are locations with limited or no Internet connectivity.
Where are our citizens going to find the broadband they need to build economic development, support job growth, and encourage expansion of education?
With your support, at your local public library.

By Carol B. Phares

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