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Library system seeks faster Internet links

| Wednesday, Aug. 8, 2012, 12:45 a.m.

When Christy Fusco's work computer at the Monroeville Public Library slowed down, she knew that patrons had ramped up use of library computers.

But last month, Monroeville and several suburban libraries got expanded bandwidth — the highway that links them to the Internet — through the eiNetwork run by the Carnegie Library of Pittsburgh.

“This increased our capacity by tenfold,” said Fusco, director of the Monroeville Library. “It's a pretty fast network all the time. We got a bigger highway so more people can do what they want to do without experiencing that wait.”

The Carnegie Library is working to expand bandwith for all libraries in Pittsburgh and Allegheny County. It is asking the Allegheny Regional Asset District to increase funding from $2.5 million for 2012 to $2.8 million for 2013 to complete expansion of the digital highway, called eiNetwork, next year.

Expansion means fewer interruptions of service and even more programs being available online through libraries. For some libraries, bandwith would be 100 times bigger.

Rebecca Serey, director of the eiNetwork, said about 50 libraries, mostly in the suburbs, began the first phase of the expansion last year. As part of the contract, the vendor runs high-speed fiber to the libraries, installs at least one network switch in each branch and maintains the system.

Phase two would increase bandwidth by 10 times in 16 branches in the city by the middle of next year, Serey said.

“A network of this size could download 17 full-length videos in under an hour,” she said.

Money for bandwith expansion is part of the Carnegie Library's $22.3 million overall request for RAD money to operate the city branches and the digital network next year.

RAD supports libraries, stadiums, parks and cultural groups with half of the proceeds from a 1 percent sales tax in Allegheny County.

The eiNetwork “is really trying to make an effective federation of library services so that whether you go in a library in Pittsburgh, Dormont or McKeesport, you can have access to the same kinds of materials and information,” said David Donahoe, executive director of RAD.

Sunesys, a digital communications firm from Warrendale, is providing more bandwidth at a cost of more than $8 million over 10 years.

RAD will conduct hearings on funding requests before voting on Nov. 27. The first hearing starts Aug. 21; a schedule of presentations has not been announced.

The city library system also is asking RAD for $250,000 next year to help make seven branches, some of which they were planning to close, more accessible.

Carnegie Library spokeswoman Suzanne Thinnes said the system plans to “spruce up” branches in Beechview, Carrick, Knoxville, Lawrenceville, Mt. Washington, Sheraden and the West End. The project involves new roofs, updated heating and cooling systems, new or upgraded windows and ramps and elevators for senior citizens and people with disabilities.

The Sheraden branch has begun its improvements, followed by Lawrenceville. The West End and Beechview branches are scheduled for 2013.

Two years ago, the library board voted to close branches in Beechview, Hazelwood, Lawrenceville and the West End for financial reasons, but changed its mind because of community opposition.

Bill Zlatos is a reporter for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7828 or bzlatos@tribweb.com.

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