Posted by Lori Ayre on April 20, 2015

I'm copying this very useful blog post from the CENIC website.  It is a write-up of a session that was held at CENIC's 2015 Annual Conference held at UC Irvine from March 9-11, 2015.  It describes the state of the roll-out of 1GB broadband Internet connectivity for California libraies.  We've all heard about it, but it is so hard to find out where this thing is at.  Finally, here's the answer!

The Path: How California’s Public Libraries Will Get There

The session audience was then given an introduction to the current state of the Library Initiative by CENIC’s Cliff Frost, who called the initiative the most exciting project he’s been a part of in twenty years and stated that its ultimate aim was a “complete R&E Intranet in California” with many possibilities for collaborations.   The minimum goal is to bring all libraries onto CENIC’s California Research & Education Network at a Gigabit per second (Gbps), and as CENIC buys circuits in high volume, this will drive costs down.

Frost took the time to point out that the California State Library, Califa, and CENIC are all leading the project, and also pointed out a surprising piece of information from the library connectivity report that can be found on the CENIC website: In addition to the dismal state of connectivity under which California’s public libraries are currently laboring, 25% of these libraries are connected with asymmetric service featuring even worse upload bandwidth.  This effectively condemns libraries to the passive consumption of information as opposed to the new role that they are even now beginning to assume, which is that of sources of content.

Furthermore, less than half of libraries were taking advantage of E-rate and CTF discounts, both because of the administrative overhead required to do so, and because of filtering requirements for E-rate; libraries have historically been opposed to information filtering due to their traditional mission of free access to all information.  (Happily, as CENIC will assume the administrative burden of E-rate and CTF discount applications and does not require filtering, this will allow libraries to overcome both obstacles.)

The initiative began with several pilot programs in 2013 which were joined by the San Francisco Public Library in 2014, and aims to connect a large number of libraries in the first year, a larger number in the year after that, and then a smaller number of others which may entail particular challenges; for example, some libraries currently have long-term contracts for their current connectivity that they cannot end without prohibitively high early termination fees.

Frost then outlined the process by which a library would connect to CalREN, illuminating the scope and complexity of the initiative and illustrating that it consisted of far more than simply “hooking up” a library site.  The eight phases of the process outlined by Frost are as follows:

  • Phase 1: Information Gathered: Libraries were briefed on the opportunity and technical information and network designs were discussed with libraries.
  • Phase 2: Letters of Agency Submitted: Libraries give permission for CENIC to seek bids for Internet service on their behalf.
  • Phase 3: Federal E-rate Form 470, and Circuit RFP Filed:  CENIC filed federally required forms on behalf of libraries, as part of the process of receiving E-rate funding.  CENIC also published a Request for Proposals (RFP) for circuits that libraries could use.
  • Phase 4: E-rate Circuit RFP Responses Evaluated, Quotes Prepared: CENIC evaluated vendor responses to the circuit RFP and chose the lowest cost options, which were then formatted in a consistent manner to make the choices as clear as possible.
  • Phase 5: Quotes Presented and Reviewed:  The quotes prepared in Phase 4 were presented to libraries for their review. Extensive consultation on technical issues followed while the libraries and their IT support analyzed them.
  • Phase 6: Contracting: Once participating libraries accepted quotes, the process of preparing a contract for service began. Contracts for Internet service are between the library and Califa.
  • Phase 7:  Bulk Purchase of Hardware: Hardware requirements are collected from libraries, and needed equipment is aggregated into one bulk purchase to ensure the maximum volume discount available thanks to an equipment discount negotiated by CENIC on behalf of its members.
  • Phase 8: Installation/Deployment:  Services are ordered and library sites are prepared to receive the new equipment and circuits. The equipment is installed at the library site and services and equipment are turned on, tested, and put into production.

For the roughly 1,100 sites of which the state’s public library system is comprised, this is an extremely complex task.

The first year was somewhat complicated by the fact that CENIC was unable to begin until Fall 2014 and consequently had to file the E-rate Form 470 prior to discussions with libraries (Phases 1 and 3).  The initiative is currently in Phase 6 for the first group of libraries and is also made more complex than the process for the other segments that CENIC currently serves, as each library jurisdiction must obtain a separate contract, which must be reviewed by that jurisdiction’s lawyer.

After Frost concluded his overview of the current state of the library initiative, the question was raised of how the connectivity for California’s public libraries would compare to others in the United State after the initiative’s completion.  Wolfgram replied that perhaps only a dozen or so libraries currently enjoy Gigabit connectivity in the United States (none of which are part of a large statewide network like CalREN), and that the initiative “will move CA from the tail end to the leading edge.”