Monday, February 1, 2010

What Is Three-Ring Binder Impact on Libraries & Schools?

My background is in library technology.  Former colleagues have asked whether the Three-Ring Binder Project (3BR) will help libraries libraries.  I think it probably will, but not directly and not immediately. It may have more relevance as a "next generation" platform by which libraries and schools gain access to connections much faster than those currently available. 

Some background... Currently, most public libraries and school buildings, some 1100 or so in all, have access to the Internet via the Maine School and Library Network.  It was developed in the 1990's, in part as a resolution of a telephone rate case before the Maine Public Utilities Commission and in part as an extension of  the "universal service principle" to public and educational access to online information.  Federal dollars have played a large part in sustaining the service.

MSLN links have evolved from 64 kbps Frame Relay to nominal 1.5 mbps links as use has burgeoned.  Some sites have left MSLN for locally available alternatives that provide even greater bandwidth at an affordable price.  Relatively few sites have the luxury of such alternatives, however. 

As time goes by, more and more information services with richer and richer content will migrate to the Internet.  This is inevitable and guarantees year over year increases in required network performance.  This climbing demand curve nicely intersects with the vastly increased bandwidth available to customers linked to the 3RB fiber network.  Fiber to the premises will likely be an option for many.  Without 3RB, fiber might be a far more remote possibility.

The key thing is this: 3RB deploys into rural Maine an infrastructure for advanced, high-bandwidth services that in most locations would not exist for many years.  HOWEVER, 3RB does not provide the services themselves.  Established and new telecommunications carriers will have the opportunity, on an equal and open access basis, to "light up" the dark fiber in the 3RB and run the "last-mile" links to libraries, schools, businesses and individuals.  Link speed and price will be set by these last-mile carriers.  Competing firms may well offer similar services for very different prices.  Some may offer special deals for non-profits, community institutions and/or schools.  Others may not. 

Whether or when it will make sense to move from MSLN to a 3RB-enabled service is an open question.  Same for the question of whether MSLN might somehow ride this new fiber in a few years.   As the network is built and last-mile carriers begin to offer services, the possibilities and the end-user costs will become much clearer. 

What we have right now is massive possibility and question marks.  To call this "uncertainty" is to take a "glass half empty" view.  I think the high probability of a big leap forward in connectivity in a year or two is truly a glass half, or perhaps 3/4 full. 

No comments:

Post a Comment

Thanks for your comments. They will be reviewed for relevance before being moved to the blog.