History of the Broadband Project

Libraries at Light Speed: A convening of Washington libraries and influencers

To make effective use of high-speed connections, Washington public libraries will partner with each other, social service organizations, educational programs, local government, health and justice centers, and more. The State Library has dubbed this project Libraries at Light Speed to emphasize a new era in service to the people of Washington, especially those in rural Washington. This project will ensure unprecedented levels of service to a wide spectrum of people in every community across the state.

As a kickoff event for the project, the Washington State Library hosted Broadband in Washington Libraries. The event, funded by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, had the following goals:

  • Establish or strengthen relationships with key influencers and stakeholders that can impact sustainability plans;
  • Deepen understanding of the value of high-quality computing in libraries and purposeful-use partnerships;
  • Raise awareness of sustainability needs and options related to the project;
  • Secure commitment to, and full engagement in, the project; and
  • Create clarity on project implementation for all partners.

In attendance were:

  • About 64 library directors or designees from across Washington;
  • State, federal, and local leaders;
  • Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation representatives;
  • Washington State Library and Office of the Secretary of State staff; and
  • Program Partners: Northwest Open Access Network (NoaNet) staff.

The event launch demonstrated the importance of the project to communities in Washington and why it is essential for participants to work toward the long term sustainability of its impact. The convening is one step in helping libraries, partners and key stakeholders better understand just what will be happening during the roll out of the project.

Washington State Library’s Role in Round 1

Washington State Library partnered with NoaNet on a successful Round One BTOP Infrastructure grant proposal. NoaNet was the lead applicant. The $84 million grant award will provide high-speed broadband Internet access to 57 public libraries where broadband connections are limited. The project will also provide provide speeds of at least 100 megabytes per second (Mbps) to 22 government facilities, 38 medical centers, two tribal service centers and four community colleges. For more information, please read the Secretary of State's press release or the announcement released by the Department of Commerce.

Washington State Library’s Role in Round 2

The Washington State Library partnered with the Washington State Department of Information Services (DIS), Northwest Open Access Network (NoaNet), and other state agencies and anchor institutions to apply for broadband stimulus funding in the Round Two "Middle Mile" infrastructure application. Activities of WSL included:

  • Worked with Washington public libraries collected letters of support from their communities which were forwarded to the grant writers.
  • Worked with public library directors where the cost of the infrastructure build out was high to determine if the location should be dropped from the application or whether the library could provide matching funds to supplement those from the Gates Foundation (see below). In the end, two locations, Darrington and Concrete, proved too expensive to include in the application.
  • Provided the grant writers with census information on most of the communities included in the application, whether a library was present or not
  • Assessed for each library how rural the community it served was and what their vulnerable populations levels were. Assurances had been given to the Gates Foundation that WSL would give priority to rural communities with high levels of vulnerable populations. In the end, however, sufficient Gates Foundation funding was available to apply to almost all otherwise eligible libraries.

The goal of the Washington State Library was to have as many Washington public libraries included in the Round Two application as possible and appropriate. The role of WSL was to facilitate information sharing and partnering between libraries, DIS, NoaNet and other applicant partners.

National Telecommunications and Information Administration, Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP)

On Wednesday, August 18, 2010, the Northwest Open Access Network (NoaNet) was awarded an additional $54.45 million to extend high-speed broadband service to libraries and other institutions across the state of Washington. Funded by the National Telecommunications and Information Administration (NTIA) Broadband Technology Opportunities Program (BTOP), this is the second award made to NoaNet through the BTOP program in support of enhanced connectivity to participants statewide. Combined, the Round 1 and Round 2 grant awards to NoaNet represent $138.8 million dollars which will construct over 1,300 miles of new fiber circuits connecting up to 100 libraries. Also receiving connectivity through this grant will be K-12 schools, healthcare facilities and hospitals, and public safety and governmental entities.

Acting Washington State Librarian Rand Simmons said, "In many Washington communities, both rural and urban, libraries are the community anchors that connect vulnerable populations with the resources they need. Washington libraries, connected to a proposed broadband-based network of Washington libraries, will have the bandwidth, resources, and training to help individuals living on the fringe of society improve their lives."

"This broadband initiative will create immediate jobs, attract economic investment to rural areas, and provide reliable, high-speed Internet access to schools, libraries, emergency responders, hospitals, government agencies, businesses and individuals," said Greg Marney, Chief Executive Officer of NoaNet.

The Washington State Library partnered with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to provide matching funds required for participation of Washington public libraries in Round 2 of this grant. As previously noted by Jill Nishi, deputy director of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation’s U.S. Libraries program, "Federal, state, and local government investments in connecting libraries to broadband are important steps toward realizing the vision of universal broadband access," "When libraries have access to broadband, they can effectively deliver critical educational, employment, and government services for residents that lack Internet access elsewhere. As community anchor institutions, libraries can also help drive local broadband adoption."

The proposed infrastructure will bring a minimum of 100Mbps or higher connectivity to anchor institutions, a minimum of 10Mbps to participating organizations, and the ability to scale beyond 10Gbps for the entire system.

Washington State Library's Partnership with the Gates Foundation

On September 28, 2009 the Washington State Library submitted a letter of interest to the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation (BMGF), at the Foundation’s, to apply for part or all of the matching funds required by the federal government for BTOP grants. WSL was selected, along with library agencies from thirteen other states, to participate in the Gates Foundation Opportunities Online Broadband Program. On February 3, 2010 WSL submitted a project concept update paper to the Foundation. NoaNet, the lead applicant on the BTOP application, later submitted a draft application to the Foundation on our behalf on February 18, 2010. BMGF sent a letter of endorsement to be attached to the NoaNet Round Two BTOP application. Actual award of matching funds from the Foundation was understood to be contingent upon a successful award of the BTOP grant by the federal government. Foundation funds will only be applied to Washington public libraries.

Other BTOP/BIP Awards Involving Washington Libraries

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Funded in part by the Institute for Museum and Library Services (IMLS) through the Library Services and Technology Act (LSTA).