Senate approves O'Mara's legislation to support broadband development in public libraries

Thomas F. O'Mara

June 10, 2015

Albany, N.Y., June 10—The New York State Senate has approved legislation sponsored by Senator Tom O’Mara (R,I,C-Big Flats) to allow public libraries across the Southern Tier and Finger Lakes regions, and statewide, to access funding for broadband installation and infrastructure through one of the state’s most utilized construction grant programs.

The legislation (S.4299/A.6162) is sponsored in the Assembly by Assemblyman Phil Palmesano (R,I,C-Corning), where it’s currently in the Assembly Libraries and Education Technology Committee.  It must be approved by both houses of the Legislature and signed by Governor Andrew Cuomo before becoming law.

The legislation would include “installation and infrastructure of broadband services” as a specific project category eligible to receive funding  through the state’s Library Construction Grant Program, which annually appropriates $14 million to help public libraries and library systems make renovations and upgrades, update electrical wiring to accommodate computer technology, renovate facilities to provide wheelchair accessible entrances and become fully accessible to persons with disabilities, and provide community meeting rooms.

O’Mara said that libraries are currently unable to access funding through the popular grant program specifically for broadband purposes including cable, wiring and modems, and network terminals and access points.

“Public libraries, especially in many rural, Upstate communities and regions, are New York’s leading digital literacy educators. That role is likely to expand in future years and this legislation can help more and more of our public libraries stay ahead of the curve to continue to meet the increasing demand.  It’s an economic and an educational investment,” said O’Mara.

According to the New York State Library, which administers the grants, a recent survey revealed that public library construction and renovation needs statewide total more than $2.2 billion. Nearly 50% of the over 1,000 public library buildings across New York are over 60 years old. Another 30% are more than three decades old.  Many of the state’s local public libraries are unable to accommodate users with disabilities, cannot provide Internet and computer and other electronic technologies to users because of outdated and inadequate electrical wiring, do not have sufficient space to house the library's collection, and lack sufficient space for public access computers.