MODESTO -- Within six to eight months, people surfing for jobs at the Modesto library and others who rely on the library's public computers will have some of the fastest Internet service available in Stanislaus County.
A little-known federal stimulus project will upgrade the plodding Internet service at the Modesto branch of the county library. And efforts are under way to bring enhanced broadband to the Stanislaus County Office of Education and Modesto Junior College, local officials said.
In 2010, the Obama administration devoted $46.6 million to help extend fiber-optic and wireless broadband in an 18-county area in the Central Valley and Sierra Nevada. It's estimated that 57 percent of the Central Valley is not served by broadband or has substandard service.
The funds were for a 1,371-mile
fiber-optic network being built by a consortium of independent phone companies called the Central Valley Independent Network. The CVIN is working to tie in educational sites in Stanislaus County, including California State University, Stanislaus, in Turlock.
It's unclear how or when local residential and business customers will benefit from the project.
"I don't think the biggest benefits will be in Stanislaus County, because there already are a number of providers such as Comcast or AT&T that have fiber (optic) in the area," said Kristian Hoffmann, president of Fire2wire, a wireless Internet service provider. "For ISPs like ourselves, competition is always good, so in the long run, it should decrease the cost of bandwidth for us," which in turn should reduce prices for consumers.
CVIN representatives in Fresno did not return calls from The Bee in the past week.
Internet slow like molasses
County Librarian Vanessa Czopek said she hears frequent complaints about slow Internet service on the library's 20 or so public computers, which often are used by people who are looking for work or applying for unemployment benefits.
The upgrades are supposed to increase the capacity from 20 megabytes to 100 megabytes per second.
"People applying for work will be able to download information faster and upload their résumé faster," Czopek said. "What we have now is equivalent to driving on a two-lane freeway; the traffic slows down as more cars get on the roadway. The new fiber access will be like adding six lanes to the freeway."
Modesto resident Petrina Lopez said the library's Internet service is "extremely slow." But sometimes she uses the library computers to apply for jobs, she said, because the service at the Employment Development Department is even slower.
Another patron, Brian Baird, said his laptop computer has a virus, so he logged onto a library computer Monday to read and respond to e-mail. He said people who plug in their laptops at the library especially complain about Web pages that won't load.
Staff members also use the Internet for interlibrary loans, research and myriad other purposes. Czopek said the use of the library's electronic resources grew by 13 percent last year, including 200,000 computer sessions, 1.5 million Web site visits and 300,000 mobile application uses.
According to a report, the federal stimulus dollars will pay for the faster connection at the library for three years. For the following two years, the connection charges won't be more than the library's current cost of $5,300 a month.
Other goals of the Central Valley Next Generation Broadband project are to:
Make fiber-optic connections to county offices of education, community colleges and state universities, libraries and seven public safety agencies in the 18-county area.
Expand fiber-optic and wireless infrastructure to enhance the high-speed capacity at schools, health care facilities and public safety agencies.
Enable the CVIN to forge relationships with local Internet providers so they can connect business and residential customers at more reasonable rates.
Assist the counties with economic development by making high-speed Internet available to new businesses.
Stanislaus County approved an easement last week for connecting the library with a fiber-optic path that runs along H and 15th streets. The city of Modesto is working on permits to bring the backbone infrastructure to the SCOE and MJC.
Bee staff writer Ken Carlson can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (209) 578-2321.