Equalizing access

A couple of weeks ago, the library increased the speed of its internet access from 300 to 500 Mbps, bringing us closer to the “research speed” available at universities. The library’s desktop computers and WiFi network, both of which we are upgrading as part of the 2Reimagine project, will now provide significantly faster connections for everyone.

In comparison, Princeton University’s internet connections provide access at 10 Gbps. Why is offering a connection that is 5 percent of the University’s meaningfully different from offering a connection that is 3 percent as fast?

Part of the answer has to with the number of people who are connected to the internet at any one time. Princeton has about 15,000 students, faculty and staff, and at any given time a large percentage of them are on campus and sharing that bandwidth. While Princeton Public Library is the busiest municipal library in New Jersey, averaging about 2,500 visits per day, the number of people sharing the library’s internet connection at any given moment is almost always measured in the hundreds, so the bandwidth we have goes farther than the bandwidth on the University’s campus.

The other part of the answer has to do with how people are currently using the library’s internet access. Currently, the most demanding use tends to be streaming video, either one of the almost 50,000 films or television shows available to library cardholders, a commercial video provider like Youtube or Netflix, or videoconferencing through Skype or one of its competitors. High Definition video streaming requires only 5 Mbps and a great deal of internet-based video requires less; the library’s upgraded service should now comfortably handle most of the demands that are currently being placed on it.

As with all things internet, the demands will continue to increase, and we will continue to work toward offering equitable access to still faster speeds. As FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn wrote, “…broadband is the greatest technology equalizer of our time, but it can only be so if everyone has access.” The true power of the internet has always been in its ability to make use of ever increasing resources; no matter what you provide software engineers, they will put it to work and ask for more. Equitable “research speed” access opens up possibilities, allowing more and more people to take advantage of what the internet has to offer.

An emerging example is more immersive augmented or virtual reality. A friend recently reported, happily and tearfully, that he had been making daily, virtual explorations of his favorite place on earth, the town in Peru where he met his wife. Other friends are augmenting reality to make fulfilling their fitness resolutions more fun. While we are not yet offering these experiences at the library, faster speeds make these and other services possible, while also improving everyone’s everyday access to information. You can see why we are excited about 60 percent faster access to this greatest of technology equalizers.

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