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Opinion >  Column

Eye on Boise: Libraries in Idaho adding pep to the Net

BOISE – Although Idaho achieved the dubious distinction last week of being declared the state with the slowest Internet by the New York Times – some Idahoans apparently are having Internet service problems due to interference by bears – the Idaho Commission for Libraries says there’s a bright spot in the Gem State: libraries.

The commission is in the midst of a statewide broadband initiative that’s sharply increasing Internet speeds at some of the state’s least-connected public libraries. It’s funded through grants from the Federal Broadband Technology Opportunities Program and the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Gens Johnson, BTOP coordinator for the Idaho libraries commission, said the “online@your library” project is making high-speed Internet available to more and more Idahoans, regardless of their residential service speeds.

Among the 56 mostly rural libraries that have benefited so far: The public library in tiny Preston got 12 new computers and broadband speeds of 11 mbps; and the Sandpoint library jumped to 45 mbps broadband and got 22 new computers.

Participating libraries have gone from average speeds of 1.5 mbps to 11 mbps for downloads and 8 mbps for uploads. The program also adds Wi-Fi.

House Minority Leader John Rusche, D-Lewiston, wonders if it’s enough to provide access through libraries and schools when funding for those public institutions is being crimped. “Speed is good, but only if the door to the facility is open,” he said.

Tribes get law grants

The U.S. Justice Department has awarded $1.9 million in grants to the Coeur d’Alene and Nez Perce tribes to “enhance law enforcement practices and sustain crime prevention and intervention efforts.”

The grants are for eight specific aims: public safety and community policing; methamphetamine enforcement; justice systems relating to alcohol and substance abuse; corrections and correctional alternatives; programs targeting violence against women; programs targeting elder abuse; juvenile justice; and tribal youth programs.

U.S. Attorney Wendy Olson, who announced the grants, said, “I am pleased to see such significant federal grant support to these two Idaho tribes. The U.S. attorney’s office is committed to working closely with and supporting public safety in Indian country.”

Insurance exchanges

The Idaho House Health and Welfare Committee has scheduled a rare interim meeting for Sept. 29 to talk about health insurance exchanges – a hot topic, with Gov. Butch Otter calling for accepting federal grants to set up an Idaho exchange, rather than leaving the task to the federal government.

The meeting will be from 8 to 10 a.m. in the Capitol Auditorium. The committee also is inviting members of the Senate Health and Welfare Committee, the House Business Committee, the House and Senate commerce committees, other interested legislators and the public. The group will hear an overview of other states’ efforts to establish exchanges, an update on Idaho’s proposed approach and a presentation from the Heritage Foundation.

Boating with tech

Dave Dahms, boating law administrator for the Idaho Department of Parks and Recreation, has been awarded the Innovations in Technology Award from the National Association of State Boating Law Administrators for developing an online grant application for county sheriff’s offices to request Safe Boating Act funds. Dahms said counties have given the department “lots of positive feedback” on the new system.

“It’s much easier to submit a grant than our old system, and it saves them time,” he said.

The award recognizes initiatives that use technology to advance boating safety.

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