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Still Buffering: Rural Libraries Fill the Void for Residents Without Broadband

The below article was published by Tyler Morning Telegraph on March 31, 2019
by Erin Mansfield 

Editor's Note
This is part two of a five-part series about how a lack of connectivity affects East Texans.
Part 1: East Texas lags the rest of the state in broadband
Part 2: Rural libraries fill the broadband void
Part 3: Some East Texans say broadband is too slow and too expensive
Part 4: How a federal grant helped
Part 5: A decade of work has gone into broadband grant seeking.

5c9a68a440a57 Image 300x194 The download speed at the Van Zandt County Library is up to 50 megabits per second, according to director Susie Pulley, which is twice as fast as the Federal Communications Commission definition for minimum broadband speed. Many residents of rural Van Zandt County have limited options for high speed internet due to cost or lack of access to services. (Sarah A. Miller/Tyler Morning Telegraph)

CANTON, TX — The sun is going down and cars are trickling into the driveway of the Van Zandt County Library. The library closed its doors 15 minutes ago, but the Wi-Fi connection is still on.

In a white sedan, a woman has parked and unbuckled her seatbelt. She sits cross-legged in the driver's seat leaning over her laptop that’s perched on the center console. The screen glows through the tinted windows.

Five parking spots away, a man pulls up in a pickup truck. He’s wearing a postal service uniform as if he has just gotten done with work. He browses on his phone in silence and drives out of the parking lot after 15 minutes.

Carol Moser, 72, of Canton, is parked crooked across a few spots in her sport utility vehicle. She scrolls on the screen of her smartphone. She said she comes to the library often for the Wi-Fi, which she doesn’t have at home.

“I don’t know what the actual problem is, and I don’t know what the solution is,” Moser said. She said she has considered paying a company to put up a tower in her backyard to get internet, “but I’m not even sure if they will do it.”

Across East Texas, small-town librarians say this is a common scene in their parking lots at night, as residents without broadband connections at home come to do work, access their email on their phone and browse social media.

And it’s completely intentional: Librarians each say they have made a point of getting the highest-quality internet for their facilities as possible because the residents of their communities don’t have access at their homes.

Many libraries have received funding for the service through local governments or negotiated discounted monthly fees through local internet service providers. Others have made bartering deals or applied for state grants.

“Our motto is open access to all,” Van Zandt County Library director Susie Pulley said. “Free internet is not offered in our county other than (places like restaurants). Internet in rural communities is limited at best and very expensive.”