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Grant brings high-speed Internet to rural libraries, hospitals

Belfair Herald of Belfair, Washington

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In today's increasingly wired world, faster often is better.

At least that's the sentiment Victoria Rexford hears at the North Mason Timberland Library, where she works as the library manager. She finds that, as more patrons turn to the library's resources while looking for jobs or researching projects, speed becomes essential.

"Most people still have dial-up at home, and today, with the types of files that people have to use or open, or the applications online that they use, it simply is too slow," she said.

The Belfair library, along with other rural libraries, hospitals and other facilities throughout the state, could see a boost in connection speed and greater access to other regional networks through an $84-million federal stimulus grant that the Northwest Open Access Network (NoaNet) received earlier this month.

Over the next three years, NoaNet, a nonprofit telecommunications operator imade up of 12 public utility districts in Washington, will bring more than 800 miles of fiber-optic cable to rural parts of the state, providing their highspeed broadband connections.

"What we'll see here in Mason County and Noirth Mason is that the libraries, the hospitals, all of those are going to see enhanced connection for broadband services," said Dale Knutsen, telecommunications manager with Mason County PUD 3, one of the 12 member owners of NoaNet.

Although PUD 3 is not directly involved in the project, the enhanced NoaNet network could connect all of the rural hospitals, libraries and public safety entities, like sheriffs departments and fire stations, to regional health and educational networks across the state.

For example, a clinic located in a remote area could have an X-ray examined by a professional radiology expert in Seattle or Tacoma, if the need arose, Knutsen said.

"That way, they're getting care that you can't get in rural areas because they don't have all the resources or staff," he said.

North Mason already received many of the benefits of a highspeed broadband connection when PUD 3 brought a fiber-optic network to the area in the early 2000s.

"PUD 3 really was an early adopter of what this grant is going to address," said Joel Myer, public information and government relations manager with the district. "We had all the schools in the county connected pretty early on, as well as Mason County General and Harrison. This grant is allowing us to ... make the network more robust."

The United States lags behind other countries, like Finland and Australia, when it comes to bringing high-speed Internet access to everyone, said state librarian Jan Walsh.

"There's been a real digital divide," she said. "In the Timberland [Library] area, it's such an interesting five-county district that has some urban as well as some rural parts. People in the rural areas should have the same opportunities as people in the urban areas."

Some people have given up their Internet access at home to do their work at the library for free, said Rexford at the North Mason Timber-land Library.

"There are times when the whole network slows down [and] seems to be reaching capacity," she said.

Libraries are a prime example of the need for the same kind of access everywhere, Walsh said.

"In today's age, this grant is a great equalizer," she said.



Copyright 2010 Belfair Herald, Belfair, Washington. All Rights Reserved. This content, including derivations, may not be stored or distributed in any manner, disseminated, published, broadcast, rewritten or reproduced without express, written consent from SmallTownPapers, Inc.

© 2010 Belfair Herald Belfair, Washington. All Rights Reserved. This content, including derivations, may not be stored or distributed in any manner, disseminated, published, broadcast, rewritten or reproduced without express, written consent from DAS.

Original Publication Date: March 18, 2010



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